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Red line rule won’t make NHL safer

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The NHL game is faster because the players are in better shape and there’s less obstruction to slow them. (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

By Stu Hackel

The NHL’s general managers will gather for their annual March meeting next week and hints have been dropped by some to members of the media that they’d like to revisit the rule that makes possible one of hockey’s most exciting plays — the two-line stretch pass that leads to a breakaway.

Ostensibly, this would be the GMs’ way of helping address the game’s concussion problem, the idea being that the NHL has gotten too fast in part because the two-line pass increases players’ speed and thus the force of collisions and the possibility of concussions. But various league sources say the GMs as a group won’t allow this rule — if it makes it onto the agenda — to be overturned. While there is certainly ongoing concern about concussions, the notion that the game is going to be somehow slowed to prevent them is not the direction the majority of managers want to take. Some of the less progressive GMs are still trying to turn back the clock, but they are in the minority.

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  • Published On Mar 08, 2012
  • Crosby again the face of the NHL’s entrenched concussion problem

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    Sidney Crosby has become a case study in hockey’s myriad dangers, how vulnerable players can be, and how difficult it will be for the NHL to further prevent concussion incidents. (Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Sidney Crosby sat calmly at his dressing room stall on Monday, a Penguins cap pulled low on his brow and casting a shadow over his eyes. In a chipper tone, he described his condition as “not bad.”

    Frequently smiling, Crosby patiently answered questions from those huddled around him about his latest injury, which is being called “concussion-like symptoms.” He believes he is not as seriously injured as when he was originally concussed last January by a combination of blows in two consecutive games, and he restated what had been known for a few days: that he had passed an ImPACT  test of his brain activity, which ruled out that he had suffered another concussion.

    But he ominously added, “The ImPACT isn’t everything. You’ve got to listen to your body, too.” He said there was no time frame on his return.

    So the NHL’s fleeting feel-good story of the first half of the season has now ground to a halt and you have to wonder if it will transform into a recurring nightmare. There have to be legitimate concerns that Crosby is now one of those players who becomes highly susceptible to concussions after suffering one, that a series of them could be ahead, and his once-sunny future is now at least partly cloudy.

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  • Published On Dec 14, 2011
  • Savard’s status, van Riemsdyk’s deal, Capital critics, Beliveau’s B-day, and more

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    After 13 seasons, 207 goals and 706 points, it appears quite likely that the Bruins’ concussion-stricken center Marc Savard has played the 807th and final game of his NHL career. (Brian Jenkins/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The news out of Boston about Marc Savard is not good. “Marc Savard won’t play this year,” GM Peter Chiarelli told Fluto Shinzawa of The Boston Globe today. “Nothing has changed in our monitoring. He’ll be examined and he’ll be declared unfit to play….”

    “Based on what I see, what I hear, what I read, and what I’m told, it’s very unlikely Marc will play again,” Chiarelli added. “Now, knowing the uncertainty of this injury, there’s always a chance [he could play]. But based on what I’m told, it’s very unlikely he’ll play. As an employer, I support him and hope he gets back to living a healthy life.”

    This is not entirely unexpected news, but it’s not good news in any event. The NHL has taken serious and good steps to reduce the chances of concussion but, sadly, they may have come too late for Marc Savard. He’s not the only one whose career has been cut short in this manner, but everything should be done to make sure that deliberate hits to the head are no longer allowed in the NHL’s rules. Right now, that’s not entirely the case.
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  • Published On Aug 31, 2011
  • Injury impact report: Eastern Conference

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    Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is the biggest name in a long list of players whose teams are eagerly anticipating their returns to health and the ice. (Photo by Rich Kane/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The Capitals’ surprise announcement on Monday that Alex Ovechkin would be sidelined for the next week-to-10 days while he heals from an undisclosed ailment (perhaps the dreaded “upper body injury” to his lower body) was followed on Tuesday with word that the Kings have lost winger Justin Williams for 3-4 weeks with a separated shoulder. The word on Ovie came a day after the Blackhawks said that top center Patrick Sharp would be out with a knee problem.

    The injury parade in the NHL, especially to so many important players, has never seemed as long. At this stage of the season, some of these absences have already had or will have an impact on the stretch drive and into the playoffs.

    As with Ovechkin, some clubs seem intent on resting key players who have a few knocks and dings so that they’re in better shape for the postseason. Those teams feel they’re already safe in their playoff position and are looking ahead to the spring tournament. Other teams don’t have that luxury and may not have some key players at 100 percent when the postseason starts.

    Here’s a look at the teams that are still in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and how their current injury situation affects their chances. (Click here for the Western Conference contenders.)
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  • Published On Mar 24, 2011
  • Timing, team response key in Cooke’s ban

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    Even the Penguins wouldn’t defend Matt Cooke, a repeat offender who used a nationally televised game against the Rangers to tweak the NHL’s image at the worst time. (Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Matt Cooke and his suspension were the hot topics of conversation in the dressing room of our usual Tuesday night skate (along with why the Red Wings aren’t playing well and the Rangers are, the size of NHL goalies today and how well large netminders Pekka Rinne and Carey Price have done). But unlike in NHL dressing rooms, no one was putting microphones in our faces to record our thoughts.

    TSN got its mics in the faces of some Canucks and Canadiens yesterday (video) and these players were quite supportive of the NHL’s decision to suspend Cooke for the rest of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. Their opinions were not surprising, considering the way various NHLers had reacted on Monday before the news of the suspension came down (video).

    Cooke remains a big item in the hockey world as discussions swirl about his suspension for elbowing the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh on Sunday. Cooke himself has said that he knows he has to change his game, and on Tuesday night the NHL on TSN panel of Bob McKenzie and ex-NHLers Mike Peca and Mike Johnson had a thoughtful discussion about whether he actually can change the way he plays (video).
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  • Published On Mar 23, 2011
  • Spotlight’s on NHL GMs, head shots, discipline

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    Zdeno Chara’s devastating hit on Max Pacioretty turned up the heat on a long-simmering issue. (Jean-Yves Ahern/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    NHL general managers began meeting today in Boca Raton, Florida, and there is some thought that this gathering — coming after the increased public outcry against the rise in head injuries and the league’s leniency in punishing players who inflict them – may be the most important one in a while. Further steps to protect the head is a major agenda item.

    It’s uncertain at the moment how far the GMs will go in making changes to the existing rules and standards of supplemental discipline. But TSN, NBC and Sports Illustrated’s Pierre McGuire said on Ottawa radio Team 1200 (audio) that he had spoken to a number of GMs and league decision-makers and the GMs are “very serious.”  McGuire called them “an extremely motivated and focused group right now. They understand; they’re hearing the message of the fans. Most of the enlightened general managers don’t want to alienate the fan base of the National Hockey League and the corporate sponsors of the National Hockey League.”

    Just as last year when the GMs met in March in the shadow of the Matt Cooke – Marc Savard  blindside head shot, this year’s gathering will take place after Zdeno Chara’s hit badly injured Max Pacioretty, as well as a long string of incidents that includes the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby being out of the lineup since early January (Crosby skated today for the first time since being hit head-first into the boards by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on Jan. 5).

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  • Published On Mar 14, 2011
  • NHL out of touch on Pacioretty-Chara decision

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    By Stu Hackel

    It’s been a very hard couple of days for those of us who love hockey. Our first concern has to be for Max Pacioretty, whose future is uncertain — and not just as a player. The hockey world came only millimeters away from talking about his paralysis and he faces a difficult recovery.

    Our second concern has to be for the state of the sport because by failing to suspend the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara for even a couple of games, the NHL — once again — showed weakness instead of strength. It should have taken a harder stand on willfully dangerous play and other incidents that have cast the sport as barbaric and repugnant. It failed last year when Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke escaped punishment for concussing Boston’s Marc Savard. It failed when it reacted with minimal punishment last month after the Penguins-Islanders debacle. It fails with more consistency than it applies to punishing those who cross the line. Once again, it has failed to protect its players and its own image.
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  • Published On Mar 10, 2011
  • Cooke rising in hated-player power rankings

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    Matt Cooke, the Penguins’ over-the-top one-man wrecking crew, incurred the wrath of Alex Ovechkin last Sunday with his knee-on-knee shot on the Capitals’ superstar. (Washington Post via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    In general, the rankings of the most despised player in the NHL have Sean Avery at the top of the list. Matt Cooke is gaining ground fast.

    Cooke the Penguin isn’t a yapper like the Rangers’ Unsavory Avery (well, no one is), Alex Burrows of the Canucks, the Stars’ Steve Ott, Vern Fiddler of the Coyotes, the Canadiens’ P.K. Subban and the Flyers’ Chris Pronger. No, Cooke is a heat seeking missile who hunts down opponents and delivers devastating hits that sometimes cross the line. He’s not silent out there but, for Cooke, action speaks louder than words.
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  • Published On Feb 09, 2011
  • Players’ action needed to stop headshots

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    Being sent off for four games, as Boston’s Daniel Paille has been, for a headshot hurts a player’s wallet, but the NHLPA must know the cost of a concussion is greater. (Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Joe Haggerty of Comcast Sportsnet New England broke the story on Sunday that the Bruins will shut down Marc Savard for the season after the “moderate concussion” (as if there is such a thing) the center suffered last month. The speculation will now begin on whether Savard’s career is or should be at an end.

    But a larger discussion that somewhat faded in recent months should be revived: At what point will the NHL put some real teeth into the wrist-slapping suspensions it issues when a player blindsides an opponent with a check that targets the head?
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  • Published On Feb 07, 2011
  • Getting headshots rules right will be a chore

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    In a physical sport, how do you fully protect a player such as Boston’s Marc Savard, who’s most recent concussion resulted from being hit and then striking his head on the glass? (Brian Jenkins/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The most interesting things during All-Star Weekend were likely not the draft, the SuperSkills competition, the game, or even the tailgating outside the RBC Center. They came from Saturday’s Board of Governors meeting and Gary Bettman’s press conference during which the subjects of concussions and franchise news took prominence.

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  • Published On Feb 01, 2011


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