Paul Kariya still believes the NHL can do more to address concussions.
Speaking after he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday afternoon, Kariya said the league was progressing in its handling of head injuries but hadn’t yet done enough to root out the dangerous hits that ultimately led to the premature end of his career.
"It’s going in the right direction," Kariya said. "I’d still like to see more done in terms of how long the suspensions are and the severity of the suspensions. But hopefully things continue to progress. If that’s out there and players know that the suspensions are going to be harsher, I hope that they don’t (decide to make) those kind of hits."
The NHL has tweaked rule 48.1 for illegal checks to the head, but that hasn’t eliminated head hits entirely nor the ensuing frustration and confusion when supplemental discipline isn’t delivered.
Gary Suter, notably, drew only a four-game suspension for nailing Kariya just before the start of the 1998 Olympics. Kariya didn’t play again that season.
"Growing up in peewee hockey, when we started contact hockey, the coaches didn’t tell you, ‘When Joey’s not looking, elbow him in the head and that’s a hockey play.’ To me, it’s not a part of the game. It never was a part of the game, shouldn’t be a part of the game and it should be punished accordingly," Kariya said.
"That’s not to say that there’s going to be no concussions anymore — because any time you play a contact sport there’s that chance and players and parents should know that that’s the chance that you take when you’re going to play a contact sport. But in my experience it’s the ones that guys are targeting their head and they’re doing it when you have no way of protecting yourself. Those are the ones that are really damaging."
The B.C. native, who piled up 989 points in 989 games, thought awareness about the "devastating" effects of concussions had improved and "10 years from now we’re going to know a lot more about concussions and about ways to prevent them than we do now or looking back when I was playing, what we knew then."
Kariya said he holds no ill will towards the NHL for how his career ended, describing himself as "very grateful" for the 15 seasons he spent with the Ducks, Avalanche, Predators and Blues. His reluctance to appear on the public stage, both with the Ducks — where he spent the bulk of his tenure — or the league was rooted more in his desire for privacy.
Teemu Selanne, his former running mate and fellow hall inductee, said it was his "mission" to pull Kariya back into the sport in some capacity, but Kariya wasn’t sure where his skill-set would fit and wasn’t willing to dive in if not totally invested.
Kariya says he still watches the game plenty and like most, is intrigued by the youth pushing its way to the top.
He’s healthy these days too and free of any lingering effects from concussions. He’s able to surf (three to four times a week in California) and snowboard back in home province of B.C. with no problems at all.
Still, it’s clear he wonders how his remarkable career would have looked like without all the head injuries.
"I didn’t retire willingly. I would’ve loved to kept playing," he said. "If there was any way of waving a magic wand and getting the opportunity to live through my entire career — the good and the bad — I would do it again in a heartbeat."