‘Hockey people’ to blame for lack of NHL player safety

October 25, 2013, 11:40 AM

I don’t know John Scott. Never met him. He’s probably a very nice man.

Scott’s latest appearance in the news is obviously something he’s not very proud of. His claim that he did not hit Bruins winger Loui Ericksson intentionally in the head was heart-felt. It does not, however, excuse him from punishment, nor should it mitigate his punishment. He will probably get a seven-game suspension. Five for the hit and two for being John Scott.

However, what Scott did on the ice in Buffalo Wednesday night is truly not the problem. It is a symptom of the problem.

There are 30 owners in the NHL, 30 general managers and 30 head coaches. Ninety “voices of authority” in this game, beyond the league office and the union, that should understand and believe in the importance of the safety of the game. Not whether their respective teams win or lose, or whether the power play is successful or the PK is woeful, but whether or not the highest level of professional hockey in the world is safe. And alas, this is far from the truth.

At the appropriate time, as they leave league meetings or stand behind a lectern, most spout that they believe in what Brendan Shanahan is trying to do. They say that they appreciate the game has changed for the better, and they will have to evolve their philosophies accordingly. But what they say, and what they do, are two different things. Saying you believe in Rule 48 and its punishments and actually applying it to your own team are two different things.

And let’s be clear: Some people have publicly stood up and said they disagree with certain applications or rulings of Rule 48, even though the rule has been in place for more than four years now. Take, for instance, John Tortorella. The Vancouver Canucks coach was quoted as saying “I would teach that play to all our defencemen. The one he was suspended on—we’re teaching that. The league just happens to believe it’s suspendable” after Alex Edler’s three-game sit-down for a hit on Tomas Hertl.

Memo to J. Tortorella: IT IS SUSPENDABLE. GET USED TO IT!

That said, we should appreciate the coach’s honesty. But Mike Gillis and Francesco Aquillini should be in Tortorella’s ear, talking about how the game is changing and how maybe the Canucks want to be on the leading edge of the game.

Believing in the game, including Rule 48, is a must for owners, managers and coaches if they want to ensure player safety. The league is expected to police the game, but it’s hard to do that when teams don’t believe in the rules. On good authority, I have been told one of the biggest frustrations in trying to enforce those rules and discipline players is that the voices of authority we have talked about don’t really believe in the system. For many, the player-safety issue is simply something that applies to the 29 other teams.

Winning means too much to each individual team. Player safety means less.

I joked with a friend of mine recently that the problem with the NHL right now is that there are too many hockey people. And I said it half in jest. The problem really is that we have too many opinions from the voices of authority. And while we talk about the players not respecting each other, the players are not alone. There truly could be more respect by the teams for the league and the rules.

So as much we all like to blame John Scott, and Scott alone, for the violent hit the other night, understand he has some accomplices that aren’t really willing to come forward.

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