Why Headshots Cannot Be Eradicated From The NHL

NHL Headshots

Photo courtesy of Amy Irvin/38 Photography

It’s been bandied about how fighting should be stricken from the game of hockey. I’ve heard both arguments, and while I am not the biggest proponent of fighting, I do still see its purpose—mildly. But has anyone brought up the idea of banning hitting from the game we know and love?

Hockey fans alike enjoy the physicality and the excitement it brings to the game, much like they enjoy the fighting aspect of the game, but we’ve seen a sharp rise in injuries (specifically concussions and headshots) because of bone-crushing hits.

As early as last week, Radko Gudas of the Philadelphia Flyers was slapped with a 6-game suspension for hitting Boston Bruins forward Austin Czarnik with a head shot against the boards. Only a few days prior, Gudas was again in the news for a boarding incident on college-hockey sensation, Jimmy Vesey, of the New York Rangers.

On October 5th, Tanner Pearson of the Los Angeles Kings was given a suspension for a headshot on Edmonton’s Brandon Davidson, costing him the remainder of the preseason and two regular season games.

If so many people are up in arms with taking fighting out of the game, hitting should be held to the same scrutiny, shouldn’t it?

Not so fast.

It’s always easier to look at replays in slow motion and Monday-morning-quarterback the videos. However, while it does show the play broken down frame by frame, it doesn’t show other mitigating factors.

The best goalies in the NHL have a reaction time of less than half a second. While forwards and defensemen have to react quickly to play, it’s not always as fast as goaltenders. For arguments sake, let’s say the average on-ice player has a reaction time of half a second. That’s quick by most standards when looking at one static play, but puck movement and player positioning change instantaneously—leaving even less time for players to react.

I’m not here to say that there aren’t players who deliver vicious hits to the head with their shoulders and elbows, although I do believe people are quick to judge players without taking the full play into effect.

The suspensions for boarding and headshots handed out last season were 100 percent fair and well deserved. Many fans were up in arms of similar incidents that went unpunished, even though they were justified. While not necessarily at fault, I feel there are just as many instances where the player receiving the hit puts himself in a vulnerable position and subsequently gets injured by an opponent during the hit. Players may second guess themselves in one situation or another, turn their body or hunker down to get a lower center of gravity, in turn opening them up to devastating hits.

NHL Headshots

Photo courtesy of Amy Irvin/38 Photography

The only logistical way to keep the majority of injuries and concussions to a minimum would be to ban hitting altogether. I’ve watched countless videos of hockey during the Soviet Union days where hitting was never a main factor or attraction of the game. While elegant and beautiful to watch, that simply isn’t the way North Americans have been brought up on the sport.

Next time you see what looks to be a dangerous hit, don’t just take the slow-motion video as your only basis of evidence. Watch it at full speed and pay close attention to the players involved. Their movements, their positioning, and how long they have to react to the play.

Will there ever be a ban on hitting in the league? No. Despite the spike in concussions league wide, they will never be wiped clean from the game. Be that as it may, the game has never been more enjoyable to watch as a fan.

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