Any time a new rule enters the National Hockey League, the purists go nuts. There’s usually a whole litany of whining and complaining about the integrity of the game, about how fighting will be taken out and there’ll be no more hitting. There’s often a few homosexual slurs thrown in and Don Cherry hauls out the whole shebang by acting out scenarios involving little prissy hockey players skating circles around each other.
It wasn’t surprising that a similar chorus rose up when the NHL decided it was high time to “discourage” blindside hits to the head. “It will take hitting out forever,” we were told by paranoid fans. “Hockey is a contact game and that would be threatened because of the ruling,” they cried.
For those poor unfortunate souls to whom the actual goal of hockey (putting the puck in the net, remember?) is incidental, these new and dastardly and girlish and sissy rules would doubtlessly threaten the integrity of the game. Who needs goal-scorers when you can fill a team up with brutes, after all?
But for those with a sense of, you know, balance, the integrity of hockey as a sport isn’t threatened by adapting the rules to meet the changes in the game. The players are bigger, the equipment is bigger, the speed of the game is faster, and so on. New situations require new approaches.
So the blindside hit rule was put in, finally, and the hitting in the game came to a screeching halt, right? Wrong.
According to league statistics, hitting is actually on the rise. An average of 45.5 hits per game were recorded in the 750 regular season games leading up to the recent All-Star break. That’s up from the 43.9 hits per game recorded in the same period last year and significantly up from the 37 hits per game recorded in the same period in the 2007-2008 season.
So where does that leave us? Why is hitting on the rise in the National Hockey League despite so many nauseating controls to keep the contact out of the game and convert the rough, tough hockey players to whiny, sissy “Europeans?”
It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the players feel generally safer and have more room to move, could it? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the notion that, at the very least, the illusion of suitable punishment exists?
League officials have a long way to go to ensuring that a consistent game is put forth, that’s for sure, but the rule changes taking place currently are good. They are vital, modern steps in the right direction.