I want to take a moment to jump back to the NHL's decision to not suspend Mike Brown for game 2. I've come to the conclusion that the NHL and Nascar have something in common. Both have taken the attitude towards participant safety that it'll take a coroner's report before they're interested in really doing something.
The hit on
Brian Rafalski Jiri Hudler was, by any definition, a violation of the rules. Despite the Ducks coaches insisting that it was a bang-bang play, the shot was so clearly at Rafalski's Hudler's head that even if he was in possession of the puck, it'd still be an illegal hit to the head.
The NHL, however, decided that it's wants to take "extenuating circumstances" into account when it comes to supplemental discipline. In this case, it seems that the five-minute major and game misconduct, combined with the fact that
Rafalski Hudler was only out for one period, somehow absolves Brown for additional punishment.
This, however, fails to take into account the larger perspective: shots to the head are wrong and should be abolished. I double-dog dare you to find someone who will argue that a hit to the head is acceptable in any circumstance.
But the league has made it clear that it wants to be involved only if the on-ice officials either miss it or if the hit doesn't influence the game. By this theory, the Wings made the critical mistake of keeping
Rafalski Hudler out longer (another "upper-body injury," perhaps?)
You're thinking to yourself, "How on earth should that matter?" And you're absolutely right: it shouldn't matter one bit. But Colin Campbell has apparently decided that hits to the head aren't the scrounge that it should be.
One of the reasons Donald Brashear got five games is the severity of the injury. Here's the quote from Campbell announcing the suspension (emphasis mine):
"Brashear delivered a shoulder hit to an unsuspecting player .. It is also my opinion that the hit was delivered late and targeted the head of his opponent, causing significant injury."
You can make a similar argument on everything other than the bolded words on the hit to
Rafalski Hudler (for those who will parrot Don Cherry and say that Rafalski Hudler should've kept his head up: having your head down doesn't mean you deserve a shot to the head). So the key, in the eyes of the league office, is the significant injury. Even if the behavior is exactly the same.
And what this reminds me of is 2001 and Nascar.
The deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr. at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000 three months apart made it abundantly clear that there was a problem with the way drivers were protected when they made contact with the wall.
Nascar did nothing, even though the HANS device had been out there for six years and the SAFER barrier had been out for two years, Formula 1 had instituted it as a mandatory safety device, and studies had shown how effectively the HANS device prevents severe injury.
It wasn't until Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001 that Nascar even seemed remotely interested in head and neck safety, and it still took an entire season, even with three dead, to mandate it.
Bob McKensie at TSN nailed it in his blog on Thursday night:
It's really up to the National Hockey League to decide what is it that they want to do. I think the NHL is going to look at it and say it's a five-minute major, it happened midway through the first period, Mike Brown is out of this game, there was no severe injury to Hudler other than the blood, he came back and he's playing, and the Ducks had to play with 11 forwards the rest of the game. There may not be a suspension in this case.
These hits are warning flares. NHL wants to ignore them, arguing under the guise of "letting the players play" that it's not that important for them to come down hard on any contact to the head unless it causes severe injury.
Someone's gonna die. The only question is when.