When one of the game’s best young players speaks, people listen. When he speaks out about a controversial topic that has been at the forefront of the NHL over the last couple of years, people listen, sit up, and take note. The young sniper shared his feelings on headshots, the NHL’s rule 48, and suspensions stemming from illegal hits to the head. Instead of going the easy route and saying the league needs to do more to help protect its players, the former #1 overall pick was quick to put accountability on his fellow players. He could be onto something.
Stamkos tells Damian Cristodero that players need to be responsible and take accountability for their actions. He understands that accidents will happen in such a face-paced, violent game, but some of the concussions can be avoided by the players on the ice.
“At the end of the day I’m not saying every one of those hits that resulted in a concussions was avoidable. It’s going to happen. It’s a contact sport its so fast you’re going to get them. But in order to minimize them I think as a player you have to be aware of the situation on the ice. We’re trying with the head shot rule. I don’t know what other rules you can put in to prevent it. Guys have to be responsible. … You look at some of the head shots, guys are blatantly putting their elbows up. A guy’s back is turned and you hit him into the boards. That comes down to common sense. We all know how to deliver a clean body check. You have to be accountable for your actions on the ice. With some of the suspensions getting a little steeper, guys are going to realize that if they do that, they’re not going to get away with it.”
Stamkos’ comments come the same week that it was announced that Marc Savard will be shut down for the 2011-12 season—and possibly the rest of his career. The league can institute as many rules as they want, but if the players on the ice don’t respect the rules and their opposition, none of that will matter. It starts with the players. Rules, regulation, and enforcement only go so far—at some point the players are the only ones who can change the culture of the NHL.
Simply put: the new rules work if the players stop hitting the opponent in the head. They don’t work if they continue to be reckless.
Fans may remember that Stamkos suffered a mild concussion when he played for Team Canada at the World Championships last year in Germany. The play that led to his concussion was not something that would have been eliminated under Rule 48—but still, the 21-year-old is familiar with the effects of a concussion. With players like Paul Kariya, Matthew Lombardi, David Perron, and Savard missing long stretches of the 2010-11 season (or the entire season), the spotlight on headshots and concussions has never burned brighter.
Oh, there’s that Sidney Crosby guy too.
Stamkos went on to say that the Rule 48 is “a good start” and that it shouldn’t matter whether a guy is injured on the play or not for a suspension. Most people agree with both points—Rule 48 was a step in the right direction. There’s an on-going debate whether the NHL should eliminate all hits to the head; but most agree that eliminating head shots when the player is in a vulnerable position was the right course of action.
Likewise, most people agree that a player should be punished for the action—not the result. If a player does something reckless and illegal, then the dangerous play should be punished accordingly. Whether or not the player was injured shouldn’t play into the discipline equation. One day we may get to that point.
At least for now, Stamkos is showing that players see it the same way as a lot of fans do.