The NHL at its best and its worst

It was just a few weeks ago when Shawn Thornton assaulted Penguins Defenseman Brooks Orpik.  For his part in slew footing and punching Orpik (continuing even while Orpik was out cold) Thornton got a 15 game suspension. (if you must see the violence :

But let’s not pretend this kind of stuff is limited to Thornton who is generally seen as a good guy, not a thug. 22 players in the NHL have been suspended this year! (see http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/feature/?id=50596)

That’s a ton. Remember, the NHL season/post-season goes into May. TSN’s venerable Bob McKenzie make the point on Twitter that things were never nice in the NHL, so maybe the players aren’t worse but the rules are changing. All of this though is driven by science, law suits and changing norms about what is acceptable risk and the correct impact of playing sports.

The NFL just settled a law suit for over 700 Million dollars related to concussions. But it still struggles. Hockey though, I would argue is different. It’s more dangerous. The ice is unforgiving, it’s played with sharp skates and sticks, and fighting…real fighting not NFL fights, is allowed. This is the culture of the NHL. Just watch the great hockey movie Slapshot and see how much of this (admittedly fake) movie centers on violence.

Now, I love hockey. When played right, it is perhaps the best team sport in the world. It’s fast, it’s dangerous and it’s very exciting. But I also wonder if the NHL (and maybe the NFL) will survive moving forward. The law suits are just getting started. The players refuse to change. And players continue to suffer terrible consequences. Sidney Crosby, no doubt the best player in the NHL, lost nearly two seasons to concussions. This says nothing to the players who leave hockey and suffer debilitating consequences of brain injuries. I don’t have many answers unfortunately. A strong consensus is for harsher punishments, and to try to force players to change. For example, to stop head shots and boarding. But the players don’t seem to want to change. Are they accepting the risk? Should we not pretend that fighting and the violence of hockey doesn’t attract some people? Tough to say.