For obvious health-related reasons, fighting in hockey has once again surfaced as a primary target for a few of my colleagues.
Admittedly, it's difficult to take the National Hockey League’s quest to manage concussions or head injuries seriously when punishment for violently punching a fellow player in the face is normally nothing more than a five-minute major penalty.
While I am still in the camp that believes the emotion of the sport dictates fighting will never be eliminated, more and more, coaches, managers and NHL executives are hinting there will come a day when stiffer penalties — perhaps a game misconduct —will be added to help further curb fighting and the health risks that go along with it.
It's unlikely additional sanctions will be implemented in the next year or two, but those who govern the game see it as inevitable.
In the meantime, the NHL and NHLPA's work to maximize safety for its players remains a top priority. According to those in the boardroom during Tuesday’s Board of Governors meetings in California, a lot of time was spent discussing health and safety. Obviously, it's good business to keep players healthy and on the ice to deliver the best possible product.
The concussion spotters program is believed to be functioning the way it was intended. Granted, the NHL's concussion sub-committee has only met once to discuss early observations, but a ton of data has been collected involving both the club-appointed and league-hired spotters, which, in the future, should assist in developing a better system.
The concussion sub-committee is scheduled to meet again next month during all-star weekend in Nashville.
It's possible this watchdog group will find consistent reporting from both club and NHL spotters and the existing system will be refined, but remain largely as is moving forward. If there is a distinction between the team and league’s spotters that one is doing a better job than the other, the system might move in that direction. It's too early in the process to make a prediction and there won't be enough data to warrant an in-season adjustment at next month’s meeting.
As much as some want to believe the NHL added its own spotters in response to ongoing concussion lawsuits, league sources insist the extra set of eyes were put in place mostly at the request of NHL teams that don't have the manpower on the road to dedicate to full-time spotting duties.
Owners, managers, coaches and of course the players and the Players’ Association, share concern over the short and long-term impact concussions and concussion-related illnesses present. It's fair to be critical of the incidents, fighting included, that contribute to this issue and it's also reasonable to challenge the decision makers who may remain opposed to change, but change is coming. It's no longer a question of if, but when.
Some Free (Expert) Advice
Coaching in minor hockey is often a thankless and time-consuming commitment. Volunteers with full-time jobs dedicate their evenings and weekends to keep youth hockey strong across North America.
However, as well-intentioned as most coaches are, some lack the skill set to properly develop young players, or don't have the time to prepare practice plans or drills that are necessary for development. Hockey Canada and Hockey USA are both invested in grassroots development and have been for many years, however, there are a number of current and ex-NHL players who are offering their experience and coaching ideas for free as well.
ProSmartHockey.com is a website that provides video instruction for all levels of minor hockey. Players, parents and coaches can all sign in and instantly gain access to a variety of teaching videos.
Former NHL defencemen Cory Cross and Wade Redden have been involved with ProSmart Hockey since the beginning. In Cross's case, as a parent, he recognized the on-ice coaching wasn't strong enough and wanted to help.
"Personally, for something as simple as teaching a child how to skate backwards, I didn't know how to get a drill going, but I knew we had to help the coaches learn how to develop skill," Cross said.
Through professionally produced videos, ProSmart Hockey is trying to reach as many minor hockey associations worldwide as possible. Wendel Clark, Luke and Brayden Schenn and the iconic Hayley Wickenheiser are among the first big-name hockey players to lend their knowledge to the program, but the NHL interest is growing.
"Over 100 NHL alumni and current players are aware of what we are doing and what is going on and many have offered to help," Cross added.
"Guys who have played at, or are playing at the highest level validate our video presentations.”
NHL Alumni jumped on board very early and the NHL's Industry Growth Fund, spearheaded by Pat Lafontaine, has expressed interest in getting involved in the new year. It's also possible individual NHL teams will get on board to encourage local interest within their markets.
At the moment, ProSmart Hockey is helping over 200 minor hockey associations in 24 countries around the world and plans are in place to tailor the website in different languages, using European players as on-line instructors.
Speaking of grassroots hockey, although my backyard rink building has been greatly impacted by a move, reducing my annual seasonal blog charting the rink build progress to the odd tweet, I am constantly asked about it.
The artificial system is long gone and the hours of actual construction are behind me, but the desire to maintain a connection to what has always been a big part of my family remains strong. However, pond hockey at the Dreger’s this season is going to be a challenge...
A well-used net in need of repair, clearly illustrates the cruel joke Mother Nature is playing on us this winter in Southern Ontario. A backyard pond, usually manicured, frozen, and approaching the point where additional flooding perfects its readiness for another season, now serves as a daily reminder of how helpless I am since going au natural last year.
Undoubtedly, the weather will change and, at least for a couple of months, we will spend all available free time in what last year evolved into a snow-covered paradise.
Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.
There is yet another busy week ahead. Look forward to Insider Trading Monday on SportsCentre and TSN.ca.