RICE & MICE: My thoughts on the NHL and player safety

I was listening to Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio on the way to work as I always do and were some very good points made a couple of weeks ago, both by Cris Carter and Mark Schlereth about player safety in NFL that I think cross over and may be applied to the NHL as well.

Effort should be made by training staff and coaching staff to protect the players from themselves. We all know most players will try to shake it off and continue to play, but if a player looks a bit unsteady after a big hit, pull him off the ice and take him to the quiet room to do some testing. This actually should apply to possibly injury to any body part, and I think most teams in the NHL are on board with this and have done a great job of being vigilant about this.

Don’t penalize, suspend, or fine hits based on resulting injury. It’s unfair to the players that play good physical games. The message being sent isn’t: “be careful hitting because you might harm someone permanently,” rather it is “be careful hitting because it may cost you money.”

Penalizing clean hits will not change the culture of the game. People will still cheer for a bone crushing hit. Clean, open ice hits get the team into the game, they get the crowd into the game; you could say they are an art form.

Furthermore, fining and suspending players isn’t a form of protection, especially for the chronic offenders. There are first time offenders, then they become repeat offenders, but there are a few players, and I think everyone knows who I’m referring to, that could be labeled as chronic offenders. These guys didn’t get the message the first 4 times they were fined/suspended, so get them out of the league. They are a liability of the worst kind.

If the league is really intent on protecting players and not just appearing to protect players, helmets need to be better. Keep in mind, there is no evidence that any helmet will reduce concussions for the wearer, but in terms of direct injury to the head by the ice, puck, sticks or other sources of blunt trauma to the head.

The Messier Project is currently gathering data about concussion rates to players wearing their helmet. They should also fit properly. The NHL rule regarding helmets does indicate that they have to be approved by the league, however it does not specifically address the strap being fastened or details about the fit. In contrast, the IIHF rule about helmets is very specific in regards to the fit on the head as well as how the strap should be fastened.

Again, I’ll point out that the NHL should be responsible for protecting its players. Some NHL players do participate in the IIHF World Tournament every year, so wearing a helmet with the specific fit isn’t that much of an inconvenience.

Mouthguards should either be worn or not worn. I’m tired of seeing guys like Kris Versteeg chomping away on their mouthguards. I might be willing to see a rule put in place that says if a player chooses to wear a mouthguard, then they should wear it properly and not have it hanging halfway out of their mouths.

The risk of injury caused by players tripping on that little piece of molded plastic if it finds its way out of a player’s mouth to the ice surface is something to consider here as well.

There’s a small chance of that happening and while it may not be likely, it’s possible. I also don’t think a player that bleeds as a result of a stick infraction from getting hit in the mouth while not wearing a mouthguard (or not wearing one properly) should draw a 4 minute power play for his team. Why give a player a double minor because the player he hit wasn’t wearing protective equipment?

Go ahead and mandate some form of eye protection. I’d like to see visors or eye protection in general mandated for the NHL. Don’t give players the choice. It’s not like they are going to leave the league and play elsewhere. It’s not like they will strike over something as silly as visors. We all know it’s coming someday, just get it over with. Find a way to accommodate players that just don’t want a plastic visor and then mandate the eye protection. Even if the eye protection is more like the metal “cage” eye-gear that is worn in women’s lacrosse, it gives players an option, keeps pucks and sticks out of the eye and there is no “fog” factor to deal with. Click here if you don’t know what this looks like.

Yes, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite saying this, since my lacrosse playing days were over before eye-gear was mandated for women players and I would have hated to play with eye-gear, but I think a different option from the plastic shield a good idea if/when the NHL should mandate eye protection. Design something that is attached to the helmet and comes off with the helmet and we’re in business.

So, either the league wants to protect the players and keep them safe, or they just want to give the appearance that they have done everything in their power to protect their players. Image is everything, but actions speak louder than words, don’t they?