Former veteran NHL official points to players’ mindsets when it comes to hits to the head

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Concussions are a near-constant part of sports discussions lately – from players getting injured and dealing with the symptoms to pundits wondering how leagues should curb their presence.

While the NHL might be going overboard at times in the suspensions being handed out for checks that sometimes seem like borderline hits, it’s nice to see that the league’s collective hearts are in the right place. Even if it may have ruined large portions of the careers of players such as Marc Savard and Eric Lindros to get to this point.

But what about the hearts and minds of the players themselves? Former NHL official Ray Scapinello (seen in this post’s main photo) wonders if the issue of hits to the heads and other injurious checks might really be in the way hockey players treat each other more than the way the league legislates the aftermath. He shared those feelings with the Canadian Press.

“In days gone by, you used to hit a guy just to separate the puck,” said Scapinello, who spent 33 years as a NHL linesman before retiring in 2004. “Now they hit to hurt. … Even the cleanest check in the world, they’ll try and knock your head off. I don’t know if it’s lack of respect—I really can’t put my finger on what it actually is.

“The whole mindset of players has to change.”

Obviously I don’t have the same fly-on-the-wall experience as Scapinello, but I wonder if the issue is two-fold. For one thing, players are simply getting larger, something that would be pretty difficult to legislate. Another factor is that people are simply more aware of concussions; head injuries that might have been classified as “getting your bell rung” are now being treated more carefully. It’s natural to look back to whatever era you grew up in/matured in/whatever as a better period, but maybe things are just different now without being categorically worse?

I mean, after all, hockey is a tough, physical sport that always was (and probably always will be) a rugged game.

Moving on, another veteran referee named Ron Hoggarth discussed the challenges faced by modern officials, particularly in the case of the league’s new rules about hits to the head and blindside hits.

Hoggarth still watches a lot of NHL games on television and believes the referees are also adjusting to the new penalty. A major component of Rule 48 is supplemental discipline, which essentially gives the league’s hockey operations staff an equal role in its enforcement.

As a result, he thinks officials are less likely to call the penalty on the ice.

“I wish they’d give a little more (control) back to the referees,” said Hoggarth. “With the head shots, I’d really like them to say, ‘here it is, you guys call it.’ If it’s wrong, we can change it afterwards.

“I see some hesitancy from the referees to call that.”

Obviously, the NHL’s rules on such hits constitute a work in progress. How are you feeling about the way the league is handling such issues? Do you agree with Hoggarth and Scapinello? Feel free to share your thoughts on these subjects in the comments.

Ducks name Kesler alternate captain

Ryan Kesler
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For the second time in his career, Ryan Kesler is wearing an “A.”

On Thursday, the Anaheim Ducks announced that Kesler would serve as one of the club’s alternate captains this season, taking over for Francois Beauchemin, who signed in Colorado this summer.

With the move, Kesler joins Anaheim’s existing leadership group of captain Ryan Getzlaf, and alternate Corey Perry.

“It’s an honor,” Kesler said, per the Ducks. “It’s special. I’m going to wear it with pride and lead by example.”

As mentioned earlier, Kesler has some experience as an alternate — he wore an “A” in Vancouver from 2008-13, but had it removed prior to the start of the ’13-14 campaign.

It’s not surprising Anaheim went in this direction. GM Bob Murray made a huge investment in Kesler this summer by inking the 31-year-old to a six-year, $41.25M extension.

Diaz could leave Rangers for Europe

Raphael Diaz, Mike Sislo
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Could Raphael Diaz be on his way back to Switzerland?

We’ll know in a month.

Diaz, who lost out on the Rangers’ final blueline spot in training camp, has reported to the club’s AHL affiliate in Hartford but doesn’t seem pleased with his current situation, per the Post:

The 29-year-old Diaz, who cleared waivers last Saturday after the Blueshirts opted to keep rookie Dylan McIlrath as the club’s seventh on the blue line, is interested in the European option if he is not in the NHL.

The Blueshirts have told Diaz they will revisit the situation at the end of October, but have not promised to release him or assign him to a European team at that point.

If Diaz, a Swiss native who represented Switzerland in the 2014 Olympics, does play in Europe during the season, he would have to go through waivers in order to return to the NHL.

Diaz’s agent, Ritch Winter, told the Post that Diaz signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Rangers “to play with the Rangers.”

And it’s understandable if Diaz — a journeyman offensive defenseman — isn’t happy with this situation.

While some believe McIlrath earned his roster spot on merit, some think it’s because of his contract status. McIlrath, who’s only 23 and a former first-round pick, would’ve needed to clear waivers to go back to Hartford, and it’s believed he would’ve been claimed by another club.