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McKenzie: Hurricanes' GM speaks out after hit on Sutter

Bob McKenzie
10/26/2008 6:33:03 PM
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Jim Rutherford has been around the game of hockey long enough to know there will be no great outcry throughout the league over Doug Weight's devastating hit on Brandon Sutter last night because it's considered a "clean" hit by NHL standards.

But the general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes would like the NHL to make one change.

"The league should at least stop saying it's concerned with hits to the head, because it's not," Rutherford told TSN.ca. "I've had four players - Erik Cole, Trevor Letowski, Matt Cullen and now Brandon Sutter - get badly injured on hits to the head and only one of the guys who hit them was suspended. So don't tell me the league is concerned about hits to the head because it's not."

 "I realize there are only two ways you can go on this. Either you have a penalty for head-checking, like they do in the Ontario Hockey League, or you don't and we don't in the NHL and I understand that and that's fine, I guess, but don't tell anyone you care about protecting the players' heads because it's not happening."

Sutter remained under observation Saturday night but was discharged from a Long Island hospital Sunday after being knocked unconscious by Islander veteran Doug Weight's shoulder check.

Letowski was concussed when he was hit in the head with a shoulder check from Colby Armstrong when Armstrong was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Cullen was concussed when New York Ranger Colton Orr hit him and it appeared their heads collided. Cole, now a member of the Edmonton Oilers, suffered a broken neck when he was run into the boards by Penguin defenceman Brooks Orpik. Orpik was suspended three games.

"You can say it's a contact game and it is, and I'm fine with that," Rutherford. "Just don't say you care about players getting hit in the head because you don't."

The NHL maintains it is vigilant on "illegal" hits to the head - those that are delivered late or are the result of a stick foul or elbow - but allow that "incidental" contact to the head - delivered in a timely fashion and with the shoulder - are permitted and accepted as "part of the game."

Any discussion in the past about implementation of a head-checking penalty - for any contact to the head, accidental or otherwise - has resulted in a stated fear that it might discourage or reduce the amount of hitting in the game. It has, therefore, gotten little or no traction.

Sutter was reaching for a puck in the neutral zone and had his head lowered and was in a totally vulnerable position. Weight stepped up and used his shoulder to deliver a hard and, by NHL standards, perfectly clean hit, making direct contact with Sutter's head and knocking him unconscious.

Rutherford said there are two ways of looking at Weight's hit on Sutter.

"I like Doug Weight," Rutherford said. "He's a good guy and a good player and we had him here when we won the Cup. So there will be a lot of people who will say Doug has no history of that type of thing, that he's not that type of player to intentionally hurt someone and that's fine. But you can also say Doug isn't the type of player who hits a lot anyway and here's this 19 year old kid in a vulnerable position and Doug took advantage of that. It can cut both ways. I know Doug didn't like the hit that separated his shoulder (in the Stanley Cup final against Edmonton) and I don't think, if he was on the receiving end of this one that he would like it either. At this point, I just hope Brandon is going to be okay."

Bob McKenzie

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