Tag: headshots

Tobias Enstrom

Winnipeg’s Enstrom the latest lost to a high hit

The Winnipeg Jets have sent home D Tobias Enstrom from their current seven-game road trip with an upper-body injury. Enstrom suffered the injury during Monday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Florida Panthers on a hit from Jack Skille:

While the NHL deemed the hit legal and didn’t subject it to further review, it remained a contentious one. Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd both dropped the mitts with Skille while the Winnipeg Free Press suggested Enstrom “was hunched over and appeared defenseless when Skille tagged him” and that the Jets didn’t like the hit at all.

Enstrom is the third player lost to a high hit over the last few days. Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson has missed time after getting nailed by New York’s Wojtek Wolski and Nashville’s Mike Fisher was lost to a crushing blow from Anaheim’s Francois Beauchemin.

As for Enstrom: He’ll miss at least the next four games as the Jets continue their roadie in Long Island, New Jersey, New York and Buffalo. They’re set to return to Winnipeg on Nov. 10 to take on — guess who? — Skille and the Panthers.

Coaches with different perspectives regarding the Smith on Smith hit

Dave Bolland, Brendan Smith, Ben Smith

Brendan Shanahan has been the busiest man in the NHL throughout the course of the preseason in hopes of establishing a strict precedent to deter headshots. Apparently, the message hasn’t been sent to all of the players quite yet. Seriously, Brendan Shanahan’s videos are going to be eligible for syndication before the regular season starts—yet players can’t remember what it’s all about.

In a play that is a textbook example of the type of hit the NHL is trying to eliminate this season, Red Wings’ defenseman Brendan Smith’s skated across the ice and made contact with Blackhawks’ forward Ben Smith’s head. Forget the notion of principle contact: the only contact the Wings blueliner made was with the head. The Hawks’ Smith laid on the ice while he tried to collect his marbles and figure out the correct answer to the question “where are you?”

No doubt this type of play will be Shanahan’d by the end of the week. Here’s a handy link for anyone who wants to see the hit in question. (Hit occurs at 0:50 mark)

It’s interesting to see the varying opinions from each team in the aftermath of such a hit. Both Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville and Wings’ headman Mike Babcock had ice-level vantage points for the headshot. Yet in the postgame press conference, the tone of their comments were certainly dissimilar. First, Quenneville’s comments:

“Both referees said that’s a classic example of what we’re talking about — the illegal hit. It was pretty black-and-white.

“This is what we’re trying to get away from. When you’re in open ice, it’s a 1-on-1 play. It’s tough to get a hit like that. I don’t know if you should be protecting your head when you’re basically in a tight area with one guy.”

From the Wings’ locker room, the question was more about Ben Smith’s responsibility to protect himself at all times. Despite Shanahan repeatedly explaining that the onus is on the player delivering the check to avoid contact with the head, Wings’ coach Mike Babcock wondered if the Hawks’ Smith was partially to blame for the situation. Here is Babcock’s perspective of the hit:

“Is there any responsibility on the puck carrier — toe dragging, sliding sideways — to look after himself. I’m not saying our guy isn’t guilty, but you’d better not put yourself in those situations.

“He (Brendan Smith) was trying to make body contact, but their guy did this and left his head there.” Babcock added, while jerking his head to the side to imitate Ben Smith’s motion just before the impact.

A quick disclaimer: Mike Babcock is one of the best coaches in NHL and has been for the last decade. He could win the Jack Adams Trophy every single year and it would be a deserved award. But in this case, Babcock is dead wrong. He asks the rhetorical question “is there any responsibility on the puck carrier?”

The answer: No.

This is precisely the point. The game is changing. The rules are changing, the way it’s being officiated is changing, and how the players are being disciplined is changing. The old-school way most of us were brought up, would say that the player needs to keep his head up to protect himself and avoid any potential injury. The current climate renders that line of reasoning pointless.

The sooner the coaches accept it, the sooner the players will accept it. The sooner the players accept it, the sooner these kinds of hits are eliminated from the game. Apparently we still have a ways to go.

Nathan Horton returns to the ice for first time since Cup final concussion

Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four

It’s been 112 days since Nathan Horton lay motionless on the TD Garden ice during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. Since then the Bruins came roaring back to win their first Cup in 39 years, the Stanley Cup has toured the globe with the B’s, and Horton has slowly but surely recovered from his severe concussion. Sunday night’s preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens provided Horton his first opportunity to get back on the ice and find out exactly where his recovery stood. If his game against the Habs is any indication, Horton will be just fine when the Bruins open up their season against the Flyers on October 6.

Nathan Horton admitted there were butterflies flowing before the Bruins “home” game in Halifax:

“I was a little nervous coming in, just from what happened. I was just trying not to think too much — just work hard and do the little things. I didn’t feel too bad, to tell you the truth. It felt a little bit different being on the ice, but it felt OK.”

Maybe he should feel nervous more often. Horton posted two assists in the third period and looked good overall as the Bruins laid the hammer on the Canadiens to the tune of 7-3. Putting up points in one thing—but showing that he could withstand the physical part of the game was just as important as any goals or assists. Joe Haggerty from CSN New England shared his thoughts as Horton took the ice for the first time since the brutal hit that ended his season in the Cup Finals last year:

“Good first test run for Nathan Horton tonight. Got a few bumps and bruises, but didn’t seem hesitant or jumpy with the puck at all. Horton also looked very good with Seguin skating on the line with him both in practice and in tonight’s game.”

To say Horton’s line with Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron looked good all night would be an incredible understatement. Then again, when a team drops a touchdown and wins by four goals, it’s safe to say that just about the entire team looked good. Still, it was an important first step for a guy who the Bruins will depend upon this season for scoring and physical play this season. For an organization that is still coming to grips with Marc Savard’s questionable future, any positive news on the concussion front should be greeted with cheers of optimism.

Remember, this isn’t that will be satisfied with another playoff appearance or a series win. If the Bruins want to repeat their success from the 2010-11 season, they’ll need all of their horses playing at the top of the game. Horton’s first game back showed that he’s well on his way to making a quick and relatively speedy recovery.

For anyone who saw the hit he took last June, his return is encouraging news in the aftermath of a very scary incident. Here’s to hoping we see more players recover and return from their concussions in the near future.

NHLPA pleaded with general managers to eliminate headshots three years ago

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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.