Thursday, June 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL struggles with reducing hits to head

Ryan Malone wanted to make clear he is not condoning any hit by a player who specifically targets the head. But the Lightning left wing also said there is much more to consider when talking about the league's crackdown on head shots than the players' willingness to make the game less dangerous for each other.

"The game is moving so fast," Malone said. "If your mind is made up you're going to finish your checks, it takes a split second for a guy to change (his body) angle. It happens so fast. If you're in the stands watching or up in the press box, obviously it looks slower than when it's happening on the ice."

Hits to the head, and their punishment, were all over the news last week.

Monday, league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan suspended three players for such hits. Wednesday, Buffalo's John Scott leveled Boston's Loui Eriksson with a devastating blow that could land him a heavy suspension. And Thursday, commissioner Gary Bettman upheld a 10-game suspension to Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta, a repeat offender.

Including the preseason, 10 players have been suspended for hits to the head or boarding, Canada's TSN sports TV network says on its website.

But Malone said it is too easy to say, as some have, that players simply need to show each other more respect.

"I think it's more situational," Malone said. "The repeat guys, it's not a coincidence. And blind-side hits and hits from the back, those are something that can be taken out of the game. But guys are going to get hit in the head. You're looking down at the puck, guys are different sizes. It's almost inevitable."

Malone, in an October 2011 preseason game at Montreal, caught Chris Campoli with an elbow to the side of the head. He was not suspended when Shanahan ruled that the position of Campoli's head changed at the last moment when he lost the puck.

So, what is the solution?

For players throwing the checks, "it's hard, but you need to be aware of the circumstances about what might happen," Malone said.

Continued fines and suspensions will keep driving that point home. As Lightning center Steven Stamkos said, "I've seen clips where guys have eased off hits, so there is a conscious effort."

But players getting checked also have some responsibility, Stamkos said. "You do have to try to avoid vulnerable positions."

As Malone said, "If you don't expect to get hit, you're probably in the wrong sport."

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