A couple of years ago I would have been in favour of a blanket head checking policy in the National Hockey League, but I have come around on the issue. After looking closer at the NHL with regards to head checking I really believe it is different than every other league in the world.
The NHL is the highest level of hockey, there is an inherent danger and the players accept that risk. I am not saying an NHL player's well being is any less important than a younger player's well being, but I think there needs to be a big delineation between the NHL and professional hockey and everything below. That means minor hockey, major junior hockey, junior A, junior B, senior hockey and university hockey; those are levels where I believe the war on head checking has to be fought on an everyday basis and where a blanket rule is most needed.
The vast majority of kids that play hockey are not going to go on and make a living at it and they need to have their brains protected from hits to the head. Even the players that want to take risks it in an attempt to make the NHL need to be afforded more protection.
I would like to see all the junior leagues in Canada, and everywhere else for that matter, have a blanket rule that states no head checking.
I think the National Hockey League's commitment to getting rid of the blindside hit to the head is a giant leap forward.
Prior to the start of this season, and before Mike Richard's hit on David Booth, the league was not prepared to consider the notion that a shoulder check that ended up hitting somebody's head was an illegal hit. The Richards/Booth hit was a turning point on this issue.
While the NHL did not feel it was in a position to suspend Matt Cooke for his hit on Marc Savard because of the current rules, the recent moves are a clear step forward and the league feels it can get rid of similar hits.
But, keep in mind, this new development is very specific to the shoulder/head hit and is not the cure-all for hits to the head.
My big fear is that everybody thinks 'this is great, they have addressed something specific in terms of a hit to the head.' But I think the NHL still has the means to punish hits to the head that are illegal. If it's delivered with an elbow and delivered late, it's interference. If it's delivered against the boards, it's boarding. If it's delivered with a player taking five or ten steps, it's charging. The NHL still has to be vigilant in policing, through supplementary discipline, all those other avenues. I hope this was not the extent of their action.
I just hope the players do not look at this and say 'I'm not allowed to hit from the blindside or from behind, but I am still perfectly fine to smash my shoulder into somebody's head.' I think the league has to be careful that the targeting part of this equation does not become epidemic.