Accepting the role of violence in hockey

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There are plenty of people who simply don’t care about the welfare of professional athletes, but I’d like to think that most of us care – at least a little bit – about the health of NHL players. That’s why it makes sense that the league is looking into different ways to make hockey a safer sport.

Yet at some point, one must acknowledge that violence is an inherent part of the game. When a hockey player signs a contract, he’s basically making a pact to put his body on the line – it’s one of the drawbacks to the fame, glory and money that comes with playing the sport at its highest level.

The Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Gray wrote a provocative (and quick) piece about head shots in the NHL, revolving around the fear that Sidney Crosby’s struggles with concussions might mean that we’ve already seen the star center’s best days. Gray makes a wider point about how the league needs to investigate head injuries, but does he ask for a little too much?

But if Bettman were really brave, his league would be aggressively investigating the recent indications that shots to the head and fighting can lead to brain injuries and some forms of mental illness. But that could mean taking head shots, fighting and maybe even body contact out of the NHL. And while that might be good for players’ health, it wouldn’t be good for owners’ pocketbooks. The NHL believes violence sells. There is little evidence to suggest otherwise … unfortunately.

Honestly, I could see a future NHL in which head shots will be made illegal across the board. Maybe fighting will be removed from the game within our lifetimes (or at least our children/grancdhildren’s lives, depending on your age). But the thought of removing body contact out of the sport is as wrong as changing the NFL to a flag football league.

Perhaps there’s a gladiatorial element to some fans’ interest in the sport, but body contact is an essential element of any NHL game. Physicality makes an impact just about everywhere on the ice; it’s tough to picture defensemen trying to contain explosive forwards with stick work and positioning alone.

Sure, it’s possible to play the game in such a manner, but abolishing body contact would be an extreme measure that would remove much of the thrill and intrigue from the sport.

Now that you’ve heard my reaction to the piece, where do you stand on measures to protect players? Should the NHL make all hits to the head illegal, ban fighting or even body contact altogether, as Gray suggests? Let us know in the comments.

Leafs pass Bruins for third in Atlantic after gutsy win against Columbus

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It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.

Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:

Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
Bruins: 82 points in 73 games

This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.

The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too. They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.

This game was all about William Nylander‘s brilliant start:

And also Toronto surviving a long penalty kill after that Polak hit:

Nazem Kadri‘s 30th goal really put the game out of reach, helping Toronto nab a significant victory.

The Blue Jackets can wallow in this defeat and Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s injury, either, as they turn around to face the Washington Capitals in a big one tomorrow.

Tortorella was irate after Roman Polak boarded Oliver Bjorkstrand

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John Tortorella was left enraged after Roman Polak delivered a dangerous boarding hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand, and he probably wasn’t too pleased after the Columbus Blue Jackets failed to make Toronto pay for Polak’s misdeeds.

Polak received a game misconduct and boarding major for the hit, but the Blue Jackets failed to score on a lengthy power play. Tortorella played to script, as cameras caught him expressing his anger at the situation.

First, take a look at the hit:

Next, behold Tortorella’s anger:

Again, Columbus couldn’t capitalize on its opportunities, so that didn’t make things any better.

Right now, the Maple Leafs lead the Blue Jackets 3-2. If Toronto ends up winning, this will stand as one of the game’s pivotal moments.

It’s far from the only exciting moment, however, with these goals and big hits also standing out.

Video: Josh Ho-Sang’s creativity gives Islanders a shot in the arm

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Honestly, after 10 games, the question shouldn’t be “can Josh Ho-Sang stick with the Islanders full-time?” Instead, the feeling is … what took so long for him to get this chance?

For all the grumbling about Ho-Sang sporting number 66, he’s provided serious bursts of brilliance and creativity for the Islanders, whether he’s been supporting or even setting up John Tavares.

The video above is some really good stuff, as it walks through his confident comments – and undeniable uncertainty – during the night he was drafted, all the way through him getting his chance with the Isles this season. Some of the best stuff comes from Doug Weight, who raves that Ho-Sang is a “five out of five” from an offensive standpoint.

Leafs’ Nylander puts on show with breakaway goal, assist on Matthews’ 33rd

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This wouldn’t have been worth a chuckle if not for the correction. (Well, maybe a chuckle at Auston Matthews‘ expense.)

On the 33rd goal of his brilliant rookie season, Auston Matthews made it 2-0 for Toronto on the power play. Crusty “act like you’ve been there” types might grumble that he actually celebrated before a goal really happened, only to tap it in for real the second time around. The rest of us, again, get a mild chuckle.

William Nylander‘s pass was nothing to laugh at, however. That one just gets a big thumbs up.

Hnnngmgghh indeed.

That goal could end up being key as the Blue Jackets quickly scored to start the second period, shrinking Toronto’s lead to 2-1 on Wednesday.

Update: OK, so Nylander’s really stealing the show. This is stupendous.