NHL Headshot Safety: Too Important to Leave to Human Error

Christian Petersen

The short NHL season has left a few questions open about what the league is doing for player safety. It's one that every fan has to answer about their favorite sport

Last Wednesday, Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski penned an editorial asking for accountability with NHL referees for blown calls. The main point of Wysh's article is a good one:

No one expects a daily email from the NHL detailing what was said or done to an official for his blunder the previous night. But something – anything – from the League that gives fans a sense that botched calls don’t just result on a slap on the wrist would go a long in building trust between the parties; in that we’re willing to forgive a botched call on an epic scale if we know there are repercussions.

Greg is absolutely right. The fact that NHL referees are still protected from public criticism is ridiculous. Fans would indeed feel a lot better if they got a little bit more out of situations where blown calls affect the outcome of games than a simple rescinded penalty or the lack of a referee's name on the league's playoffs officials roster.

It's a little unfortunate that he used two situations which call the league into question significantly more than the refs who made the specific calls. To point out the bad policy, Wyshynski used the David Backes hit on Kent Huskinsfrom Feb 1st and the Andrew Desjardins hit on Jamal Mayers from the 5th.

They're the two easiest mess-ups to use because they're the two biggest ones. Both calls ended with a player ejection; one of them earned a power play for the other team which created the eventual game-winning goal. The problem is that, looking at both goals at game speed and in the heat of the moment, both hits absolutely look like head shots and, with head shots being not only one of the biggest topics of debate, but also a recent topic of debate since the Brad Stuart hit on Gabriel Landeskog, referees absolutely SHOULD err to the side of caution when it comes down to a hit that looks like a head shot.

This is why it's embarrassing that something this potentially game-altering isn't immediately reviewable.

While supplemental discipline (and supplemental decision-making to rescind match penalties) exists to make up for these mistakes, I would much rather get something so important right on the first go-round. It would take a replay official approximately 30 seconds to check the same replays that the television crews are showing everybody outside of the arena and make the call downstairs to let the ref know immediately that what happened wasn't a head-shot. The mistake ends at the blown whistle and doesn't extend beyond that.

While a potentially-killed rush caused by a mistaken whistle might be annoying, the solution is miles better than an ejection and a major where one doesn't belong.

As it pertains to referee accountability post-game, until such a system is implemented, situations like the Backes and Desjardins hits should elicit nothing from the referee who made the call other than "I'm sorry I've been instructed to play it safe with head shots and have been severely limited in my ability to use all the technology available to me to make sure I don't make a mistake; I hope the league fixes that in the future."

What this change does is to allow refs to stay vigilant in trying to get predatory and dangerous checks to the head out of the game without forcing them to worry about messing up the call in a potentially big situation.

[Ed Note: This is a piece in a large series of posts going up around certain sites on SB Nation about concussions in the NHL. More information follows:]

Hockey fans know violence. Big hits, fights, and hard shots are a part of the game, and many times the reason that fans love it. With the information that is now known about concussions and how they affect the brain, many fans have questioned if the sport of hockey has become too violent.Today, many SBNation hockey blogs are posting various opinions on concussions in the NHL. Whether you think the NHL should crack down on hits to the head, that players are responsible for their own safety, injury risk is part of the game, fights should be banned, or anything in-between, there will be something for you today. There will also be feature stories on players that have had major concussion issues. Make sure to visit all of the sites taking part, and put your critical thinking caps on. Some sites will be posting multiple articles throughout the day (Hockey Wilderness has 6 alone!), so make sure you stop back throughout the day.

Hockey Wilderness (Minnesota Wild)- www.hockeywilderness.com

Mile High Hockey (Colorado Avalanche)- www.milehighhockey.com

Stanley Cup of Chowder (Boston Bruins)- www.stanleycupofchowder.com

Anaheim Calling (Anaheim Ducks)- www.anaheimcalling.com
On the Forecheck (Nashville Predators)- www.ontheforecheck.com

Pensburgh (Pittsburgh Penguins)- www.pensburgh.com

Nucks Misconduct (Vancouver Canucks)- www.nucksmisconduct.com

Second City Hockey (Chicago Blackhawks)- www.secondcityhockey.com

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