Hard Headed: The NHL and the helmet debacle
By Ed Kimberley
Most of my writing on March Hockey has covered the EIHL. However, I thought I’d make a quick remark about the new NHL rule surrounding the removing of your helmet before or during a fight. Under the new rules removing your helmet now comes with a coincidental 2 minute penalty on top of the standard 5 minute major for the fight itself. Although this doesn’t seem like much a penalty, its presence seems merely a formality as we have seen in a latest round of preseason games there is always a way around it:
Note that Barch and Gallant are both communicating pre-fight “hey no leave it on just undo it, and ill take it off.” To me it all sounds so very chivalrous and a fantastically typical response between two respected tough guys before they go.
Why bother then with the rule might you ask?
Well it’s a bit of a paradoxical situation. The NHL is trying to avoid being sued by players families as a result of head injuries sustained in fights, very similar to the situation the NFL is facing at the moment. However by having players leave their helmets on during a fight, it also causes a different injury problem: hand injuries. Now this may not seem too bad and I would say I would rather have a broken hand or finger than a concussion but it’s still an injury that will cause players to miss games.
If we look back to when helmets were made mandatory in the NHL, players were trying to get the helmet off the other combatant. Sure this causes more damage when you hit them, but it also prevents broken fingers, knuckles, wrists and hands through striking a helmet. Speaking from my limited experience, punching a helmet hurts; I have broken a few fingers and split knuckles during a fight because of this. Now fortunately at the level I played I didn’t really have to worry about missing practise or missing a game but in an NHL where the enforcer role is changing, and these guys are literally fighting for their ice time. Not only does adding an extra 2 minute eat into the limited time they have already but I question how effective it will be?
The OHL fighting rule that requires the helmets stay on and mandatory visors doesn’t seem to have deterred hockey’s future throwing the fists (although this is something Ashley will know more about). (March’s note: OHL only allows 10 fights a year per player.)
The EIHL has not adopted this rule, although there is legislation regarding jersey tie downs. IF you don’t have your jersey tied down before a fight you can get thrown out of the game for illegal equipment. This is to protect guys who get lost when their jersey is pulled over their head leaving them pretty vulnerable. Now in theory again this is a great idea, however it is flawed. Firstly I haven’t seen a lot of enforcing of this rule. Secondly a lot of guys I have spoken to have had their tie down break during the fight, (its essentially a Velcro strap) making it difficult to judge if it was tied down in the first place. Thirdly I know how restricting they can feel and although a regular fighter might sacrifice this for extra movement fights, well, just happen and being caught unawares can lead to a fairly irritating ejection.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to see fighting stay in hockey but first and foremost players do need to be protected. Derek Boogaards death came as an indirect result of blows to the head he had sustained in a fight, something we don’t want to see happen again. However there needs to be another way around this problem.