It has been about seven weeks since the NHL warned of increased penalties for illegal blows to the head. If the number of concussions is an indication of compliance, the signs are encouraging. With 29 concussions through the first half of the season, the league is headed for one of its better years in a while.
Even so, Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier doesn't like the subject.
"Knock on wood, I've never had one," he said. "I don't even want to talk about it. I don't want to jinx myself, you know?"
As for players hunting heads, Lecavalier said the problem has lessened.
"There's still some cleaning up to do, but I think guys are more cautious about hitting from behind," he said. "We talk about it so much. When you go into a corner and you see a guy's back, don't hit him. It's as simple as that."
Concussions per season
Season No. Season No.
1997-98 56 2003-04 72
1998-99 88 2004-05 Lockout
1999-00 66 2005-06 NA
2000-01 109 2006-07 69
2001-02 96 2007-08 74
2002-03 72 2008-09 29 *
* Through December Source: NHL
When Lightning C Jeff Halpern last week challenged San Jose's Doug Murray to fight, the first thing both did was remove their helmets; an etiquette, especially among players such as Murray who wear visors, meant to spare the knuckles of the combatants.
It makes Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet cringe.
"I remember Scott Stevens, when he was in Washington, and we got into a fight," Tocchet said. "His helmet came off, and I fell on top of him with all my weight. And his head hit the ice, and there was blood everywhere. I instantly stopped, and he starts punching me. He hit me in the nose, and I'm like, '(Forget) this,' and I start hitting him back."
The larger point, though, is this: "The scary part is I remember his head cracking and blood coming."
Earlier this month, a 21-year-old player in Canada died from injuries sustained in a fight after his helmet came off and his head hit the ice during a fall.
"I understand the bravado. A guy has a visor. The other guy doesn't," Tocchet said. "But I don't care how tough you are. You slip somehow, and I've done it before. My helmet used to fly off all the time. I'm not saying take fighting out, but helmets make a big difference."
Give him his due
So much has been said and written about what Barry Melrose did wrong, perhaps he deserves credit for something he got right. The former Lightning coach was consistent after he was fired that rookie Steven Stamkos was not physically ready for the NHL. Turns out, coach Rick Tocchet also believes Stamkos needs to get stronger and has put the No. 1 draft pick on an amped-up workout program with strength coach Chuck Lobe.
D Lukas Krajicek
Any relation to Richard Krajicek, the tennis player?
No, it's just a name.
Did you play tennis growing up in the Czech Republic?
Sometimes, like a lot of guys do.
Could you serve?
I served pretty good, actually. It was more the backhand I needed to improve.
Was hockey always your favorite sport?
Hockey first and soccer. But there was no doubt I wanted to play hockey.
Could you score in soccer?
I scored a few goals.