Tuesday, February 22, 2011


When those of us who are of the instant gratification generation are confronted with people who lived the primes of their adult lives before we were born...fossils, if you will...we tend to tune them out. Sure, everything was better-built, stronger, more classy than anything we have now, grandpa, we think.

What we forget as we're tuning out gramps is, sometimes, he's right. Sometimes the wisdom he learned the hard way before we were born still applies now. I remembered that today, when I talked with Alex Faulkner.

Alex is the first Newfoundlander to have played in the NHL. He skated with Howe and Sawchuk in the '60s, although he just missed the Cup-winning years in Detroit. He's an unassuming person and a very classy gentleman. Our conversation today was about head injuries in the game he calls "his life."

Faulkner thinks its great that the game is faster and the doctors much more conscientious about diagnosing concussions, but he thinks there are things that need to happen to make the game he loves better for the men who play it.

First, he says, the equipment needs to be made softer, like it was in the old days. The purpose of padding is to protect the wearer, not to turn him into a tank. He thinks the rock-hard shoulder and elbow pads players wear are too dangerous.

Second, the league has to think about reducing some of that great speed, either by lengthening shifts, or by reducing rosters. Excessive speed, combined with rules prohibiting interference, means players are getting hit harder, at higher velocities, and that hurts heads.

Third, Faulkner thinks there needs to be a no-touch icing rule. Sure, he says, the occasional race for the puck on a delayed icing is fun to watch, but most often, it just opens the defenceman to a shot from behind as he rushes to retrieve the iced puck.

Fourth, Faulkner says he truly believes that an offender...a guy like Bertuzzi or Cooke...who hurts an opponent with a reckless hit to the head, should be suspended for the duration of the injured player's absence. He thinks the NHL's lack of muscle on the discipline front is sending a tacit messasge that nobody's really serious about stopping the kinds of play that ends careers.

And finally, he says players have to be taught to hit correctly. He says the elbows and forearms that go up high on bodychecks now didn't used to be the way hits were carried out. A huge bodycheck should be legal (he despises retaliation on a clean check), but it shouldn't involve any part of the hitter contacting the target's head.

These are simple solutions, presented by a guy who's been there. They're the kind of answers that will stop, or at least slow down, the concussion epidemic, which is ending the hockey lives of really good players like Marc Savard and Paul Kariya, and is threatening the careers of generational players like Sidney Crosby.

Perhaps, if bottom-line dwellers like Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman weren't too busy tuning Grandpa out, they'd recognize that. Something has to give, because players' heads are fragile and they're getting broken much, much too often.


Woodvid said...

Wow, do I ever agree with that. I've been ranting to you about the longer-shifts thing for a while now -- it's a relief to hear it from somewhere else. Maybe if enough people cotton on to it, the idea will gain momentum and something will change.

The equipment: yes, this is one thing that Don Cherry was right about. It should never have become as hard and big as it is. Football players started to use helmets as a weapon in the 70s and look where they are now. Did you see the recent picture of Shanahan's old shoulder pads? Apparently people laugh at them because they're so minuscule compared to the giant shells people have on now. But they're what he started and finished with.

And about the arms and elbows -- that's something that's been bugging me for a while. When I watched the Habs of the late 70s, those kinds of hits did not happen. I wonder if they could start calling those as elbowing penalties.

MC said...

Excellent article, I really enjoy hearing from guys like this. Reducing the roster size is an idea I have not heard before, but it is a good one as it would also increase the skill level. But I doubt the NHLPA would ever agree. Maybe higher salaries would entice them as the cap would be split between less players. Not sure how you would enforce longer shifts but it is an interesting thought. I also really like the idea of having to keep the hands down on hits, brilliant idea.

I would also like to see the idea of "finishing your check" go away. The rules have always said that you can only hit when a player has the puck or immediately after releasing it. The definition of "immediately" is too loosely interpreted in hockey. The NFL no longer allows players to hit the QB after the ball is thrown, they now expect the rusher to stop. These late hits are among the most devastating.

Anvilcloud said...

Oddly enough, I've just been thinking about slowing the game down. We should reduce the game roster so that three lines plus a spare or two is all that is allowed. Maybe only 5 D's. But the roster size would still be the same overall. In fact an extra D and F could dress as injury spares.

We don't want to go back to obstruction as a way of slowing the game; we need to keep the flow going. But reducing the game roster would help limit the goons' time and also cause the others to pace themselves better.

We can't limit the roster size due to the union, but I think we could limit the number of guys who could suit up. Maybe a coach would have to declare his nine forwards and would always have to have at least two of them on.

Anonymous said...

It feels wrong to agree with Don Cherry, but he has been making some of those same arguments for some time - softer equipment, no-touch icing.
I think that the biggest difference maker would be reducing the roster sizes - not that the PA would ever agree to it.
Really enjoy the blog, and hope you can keep tweeting? twittering?

dusty said...

Waiting for Gary Bettman to lead in the necessary rule changes is like expecting Obama to endorse Democracy. It's against their interests.

Great post, too bad these ideas don't get serious consideration. Maybe we have to take to the streets.