One of the biggest storylines to come out of this NHL season has been the "epidemic" of head injuries in the league that the NHL and NHLPA have been slow to act upon. Sidney Crosby, David Perron, and Marc Savard are only three important players to have missed significant time with their clubs due to the lingering effects of head trauma. Without enough long-term data and with the problem of past stigmas associated with accurately reporting brain injuries, the hockey community is left without a consensus on whether the problem is truly getting "worse", but at least most can agree that where they are right now is "bad".
The introduction of NHL's new Rule 48 was designed as a cure for a lack of a rule in place to allow the league to punish players who targeted the head on blind-side hits. Coupled with the league's mandate to actually do their job in punishing other types of predatory, dangerous, and illegal hits, the solution put in place this year was supposed to allay the fears of one contingent of hockey fans arguing for the end of all hits to the head against the fans arguing that taking such an extreme measure would rob hockey of the physical aspect that many enjoy about the sport and to the largest contingent of fans who fall somewhere in between the two most extreme viewpoints on the matter. Unfortunately, that hasn't seemed to have been the case this season.
What we're here to do today is to simply take a look at the last week's worth of head-punishing action in an effort to start a dialogue about what constitutes a head-shot, what can or should be done to prevent them, and who should ultimately take on the responsibility in myriad situations which all have the potential to have an incredible impact on good people's careers. Join me after the jump for a look at the head shots I and some of my fellow SB Nation bloggers were able to record in the NHL games dating back to Saturday, April 2nd.Please note: this is not designed to be an exhaustive list, but as the feature grows, I would hope that there would be more reported. If you know of one that did not get reported, there will be a form at the end of this post for people to use in order to send in their own reports.
Saturday, April 2nd: 11 NHL Games (8 Head Shots Reported)
Anaheim at San Jose - Doulas Murray on Lubomir Visnovsky: During the third period of this Ducks/Sharks game, Visnovsky skates the puck into the San Jose end and releases a wrist shot on goal. The whistle blows and Douglas Murray skates to deliver an arguably late hit on Visnovsky. The Ducks' defender sees Murray coming and tries to avoid the contact, but Murray bowls him over and pushes him into the boards awkwardly. While perhaps not a traditional head shot, thanks to Visnovsky's trying to duck under the hit, it seems an unfortunate incident that happens as a result of Murray delivering a late hit.
Result: No penalty, no supplemental discipline, Visnovsky did not miss any time with his reported upper-body injury.
Dallas at Los Angeles - Mike Ribeiro on Michal Handzus: As time winds down on a Dallas loss to the Kings, Michal Handzus blocks a shot from the point and, while looking down to find the puck in his feet, catches a hit to the head from Mike Ribeiro as he comes across the ice. The hit doesn't appear to come from the blind side and Handzus does have his head down, but this looks like an instance of a player targeting the head of a vulnerable opponent. You can view a replay of the video here.
Result: No Penalty, no supplemental discipline, Handzus did not miss any time.
Toronto at Ottawa - Jay Rosehill on Marek Svatos: three-fourths of the way through the first period, Jay Rosehill cross-checks Marek Svatos in the head.
Result: Rosehill receives two minutes for cross-checking, no supplemental discipline, diagnosed with a concussion, Svatos did not play in the Senators' three remaining games.
Toronto at Ottawa - Zack Smith on Brian Lashoff: Midway through the third period, Zack Smith chases Brian Lashoff deep into the Toronto end on a dump-in. Lashoff plays the puck while facing the boards and Smith checks him hard from behind, sending him head-first into the glass.
Result: Smith was given a five-minute major for boarding, no supplemental discipline, no injury reported for Lashoff.
Detroit at Nashville - Shea Weber on Darren Helm: On a shorthanded scoring chance for Helm and Patrick Eaves, Shea Weber cross-checks the speedy center in the back of the head.
Result: Weber was given a two-minute cross-checking penalty, no supplemental discipline, no injury reported for Helm.
Detroit at Nashville - Tomas Holmstrom on Pekka Rinne: While screening a shot in front through contact shared between Homstrom and Rinne, the Swedish forward appears to elbow Rinne in the head as he goes down to block the shot. Watch the video here.
Result: A Red Wings goal was waived off, Holmstrom was sent to the box for goaltender interference, no supplemental discipline, no injuries reported.
Detroit at Nashville - Ruslan Salei on Nick Spaling: Chasing a loose puck from the side of the net to the corner, Salei gives Spaling a push from behind a few feet from the wall, sending him head-first into the boards.
Result: Salei was given two minutes for cross-checking, no supplemental discipline, no injury reported for Spaling
Edmonton at Vancouver - Aaron Rome on JF Jacques: Late in the third period of an Edmonton victory, Aaron Rome elbows JF Jacques
Result: Rome was given a two-minute minor for elbowing, no supplemental discipline, no injury reported for Jacques
Sunday, April 3rd: 7 NHL Games (0 Head Shots Reported)
The Rangers/Flyers game saw a two-minute roughing penalty to Bryan McCabe while the Sabres/Canes game saw Jussi Jokinen take a boarding penalty, but I did not see or was not made aware of any hits that were considered "head shots."
Monday, April 4th: 2 NHL Games (0 Head Shots Reported)
The Bruins/Rangers game saw nothing but slashing, hooking, and tripping on the scoresheet while the later Kings/Sharks game saw a lot of fights, but nothing to be considered a true "head shot" (for the purpose of simplicity, we're not counting fights)
Tuesday, April 5th: 9 NHL Games (3 Head Shots Reported)
Philadelphia at Ottawa - Ben Holmstrom on Zack Smith: This one is interesting, as Smith carries the puck through the neutral zone with Holmstrom coming in to lay the body. Smith is trying to deke around contact by Matt Carle and is in a vulnerable position when Holmstrom comes through. The video of this play is below for you to make your own judgment.
Result: Chris Neil fought Holmstrom for the hit (and received an instigator), but Holmstrom was not penalized other than the fighting major, no supplemental discipline, no reported injury for Smith.
Colorado at St. Louis - Ryan Wilson on TJ Oshie: In the third period of this game, TJ Oshie carries the puck through center ice. He is looking down, but skating upright when Ryan Wilson steps up on him and lays into him. Wilson's shoulder makes contact with Oshie's face, but it appears as though this is a straight-on hit.
Result: The two players fought and were sent to the box for that only, no supplemental discipline, no injuries reported.
Vancouver at Edmonton - Raffi Torres on Jordan Eberle: Eberle reaches for a puck in the corner with Torres bearing down on him. Instead of playing the puck, Torres lays into Eberle, hitting him squarely in the head.
Result: Torres was given a five-minute elbowing major, a game misconduct, and suspended by the league for four games; Eberle reported no injury. Both Torres and Vancouver GM Mike Gillis explained they were unhappy with the suspension and that they felt it was a good hockey play. Contention to that is that Torres made no attempt to play the puck in this situation and, in the process of doing so, delivered an unnecessary and dangerous head shot. Watch the hit below:
Wednesday, April 6th: 8 NHL Games (1 Head Shot Reported)
San Jose at Anaheim - Corey Perry on Dany Heatley: During a 2nd period net-front scrum, Dany Heatey is fighting for a puck when the whistle blows and the post-stoppage antics start. Heatley gets knocked down a split second before Corey Perry comes in to wipe him out of the play. Instead of hitting him in the chest, Perry gets him in the head.
Resut: No penalty for Perry, no supplental discipline, no injury for Heatley reported.
Also of note on that date: The Islanders/Bruins game had four roughing penalties assessed. In the Devils/Maple Leafs game, Joey Crabb took a boarding call and Dion Phaneuf was called for elbowing. Ryan Reaves took an elbowing call in the first period of the Blues/Blackhawks tilt. There were five roughing penalties handed out in the Edmonton/Calgary game (four of them to the Oilers). None of these were reported as head shots, but I wouldn't be surprised if a good portion of them were. If you can remember any of those plays, please let me know in the comments.
Thursday, April 7th: 4 NHL Games (1 Head Shot Reported)
Montreal at Ottawa - Francis Lessard on Tom Pyatt: Lassard and Pyatt chase a puck deep into the Montreal zone. Pyatt gets there first and Lessard crunches him into the boards. It's hard to tell what part of Pyatt's body makes contact with the boards first, but his face definitely does make contact.
Result: Lessard was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind, no supplemental discipline, no injury reported for Pyatt.
Friday, April 8th: 10 NHL Games (1 Head Shot Reported)
Chicago at Detroit - Patrick Sharp on Danny Cleary: 13:02 into the first, Sharp and Cleary come together at the benches behind the play for some extracurricular activity. Sharp cross-checks Cleary across the face. This play is partially the result of Sharp losing his cool and partially the result of Cleary ducking at the last second before the cross-check.
Result: Sharp was given two minutes for cross-checking, no supplemental discipline, no injury reported for Cleary.
Also of Note: The much-anticipated Islanders/Penguins game turned up one roughing penalty in the first period and two fights. Dustin Byfuglien was given a game misconduct for some net-front stuff in Atlanta's game against Carolina. There was a lot of ugly happening in the Minnesota/Edmonton game (to the tune of 122 combined penalty minutes), but I didn't get to see this game. Cal Clutterbuck was given a misconduct for boarding Theo Peckham, but the replay doesn't show Peckham's head hitting the boards.
Saturday, April 9th: 11 NHL Games (2 Head Shots Reported)
There were five boarding/roughing/elbowing calls in the Isles/Flyers game that I didn't see. The Leafs and Canadiens combined for three roughing calls. Craig Rivet was given a 5-minute major and game misconduct for cross-checking in the Jackets' game against Buffalo. The Ducks/Kings game saw seven roughing penalties and three fights.
Sunday, April 10th: 5 NHL Games (1 Head Shot Reported)
Red Wings at Blackhawks - Justin Abdelkader on Brent Seabrook: During the third period of the two teams' last game of the season, Brent Seabrook makes a pass out of his own zone and then gets hit by Justin Abdelkader behind the play. Abdelkader gets his elbow up into Seabrook's chin.
Result: No penalty on the play, no supplemental discipline, no injury reported for Seabrook. As a Red Wings fan, I'm very surprised to see that Abdelkader has not been suspended by the league. Watch the video below.
Edmonton at Colorado - Theo Peckham on Matt Duchene: The young Avalanche center brings the puck through center ice with speed. Theo Peckham lines him up at the blue line and backs into his path, making contact with Duchene's head as they meet. It appears as though Peckham keeps his elbow tucked during this play and hits Duchene straight on.
Result: Aside from having to fight Ryan Wilson, Peckham received a two-minute elbowing penalty, no supplemental discipline, no injury to Duchene reported.
So there you have it, folks. Eight days of NHL action, 66 games, 16 head shots reported, and who knows how many missed. If anything, this extended week's action shows how difficult it may be to catch everything and what a wide variety there can be for hits to the head. Some of these have a place in hockey where they may have a fit (as the only way to eliminate them is to completely change the way the game is played); some of them have no place in the sport. Where you fall on each of these hits is up to you. I can safely say that in my opinion, more than one of these head shots should have resulted in a suspension, but the reality is that only Raffi Torres' did.
As noted, this is a very young project and, as a result, I don't catch all of the head shots that go on. If you see any coming up in the next week during the playoffs, please use the form below to report them to me for next week's article. Thank you.