The more things change, they basically stay the same. With the GMs meeting in Florida on Monday, one of the major items on the agenda is headshots. Just last year in the wake of the Matt Cooke/Marc Savard incident, headshots were also on the agenda. Judging by the story Glenn Healy tells, the general managers didn’t want any part of the debate three years ago. Even back then the issue was on the agenda—and still we don’t have a legitimate answer or solution.
Here’s what former NHLPA executive (and current NHL analyst) Glenn Healy had to say about his experience in dealing with the NHL general managers:
Three years ago, after polling their players, Paul Kelly and Glenn Healy spoke to the general managers in the National Hockey League and made an impassioned plea for the elimination of head shots in hockey.
The reaction of the GMs, Healy remembers? “Silence.”
“I could feel the knives in my back as I was walking out of the room, everybody staring at you,” said Healy, who was then Kelly’s assistant with the NHL Players’ Association.
“The response was that there was no response. We knew we were working in a hostile environment.”
At some point, changes will have to be made. Maybe the answer is a rule change that penalizes any hit to the head (no matter the situation or perceived intent). Maybe the powers-that-be will want to introduce something that slows players down when they are throwing themselves into one another. Maybe the helmets can be made to be more effective—and maybe the elbow pads can be made to be LESS effective. Maybe the officials on the ice will start calling charging penalties when players line up opponents in a vulnerable position. Maybe the NHL needs a bigger ice surface. There are a ton of ideas floating around the hockey world.
Everyone around the NHL seem to have a different opinion on the headshot discussion. But their is one thing people aren’t debating: Headshots and concussions are a problem that need to be addressed. So when we hear the general managers – who should want to protect their multimillion dollar investments – greet concerns over players’ health with silence, there’s been a systematic breakdown.
The answers should be coming from the top as GMs should want to protect their players. The NHLPA should be as bold as they were three years ago – and keep the brazen stance until something is done to protect its constituency. The sides might not agree on the ways to solve the problem, but they should agree that there is a problem and something needs to be done to rectify it. There are plenty of answers out there; and some are better than others.
The one solution that is not acceptable is inaction. The GMs need to listen, look at the problem, and do something. Anything. Try something to help protect the players. Suggest something that can be implemented. Regardless, start finding out what works. Start finding out what DOESN’T work. Whatever they do, start doing something. The problem isn’t going anywhere and it isn’t going to solve itself.
If not, we’ll be having this exact same conversation in three years—and the only difference will be three more years of injured players. And the only reason for the injuries will be because the people who should care the most chose to look the other way.