In recent weeks, the NHL has seen some blatant cheap shots with players attempting to injure their opponents. Buffalo Sabres forward and assistant captain Chris Drury and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle were both victims of such brutal hits. These acts are full of cowardice and shine a negative light on the sport.
On Thursday, Feb. 22, the Sabres faced off against their division rival, the Ottawa Senators. The two teams always play each other tough, but this game was more physical than usual. All of the tension came to a head when Senators' forward Chris Neil took a run at Drury right after taking a shot on net. Neil's elbow made contact with Drury's head and left him on the ice with a cut on his forehead. The hit also resulted in a concussion, and a brawl ensued immediately after. Players and goaltenders got involved, and over 100 minutes of penalties were assessed.
The two teams had a rematch two days later and there was expected to be more bad blood. Late in the game, Neil essentially crosschecked Sabres' rookie forward Patrick Kaleta in the face and another small fight ensued. It seemed as though Neil was free to do whatever he wanted, as he was not punished for either of the acts. If players aren't punished for cheap shots and questionable hits, then they have no motivation to stop.
The hit against Kaberle was even more shocking. Towards the end of a play in his defensive zone, Kaberle sent the puck up the ice to start play going in the offensive zone. Well after Kaberle's pass, New Jersey Devil forward Cam Janssen came in and left his feet to send the Maple Leaf crashing into the boards. Janssen's elbow and shoulder both made contact with the head of Kaberle, who was clearly not ready for the hit. Amazingly, no penalty was called on the play, and Kaberle was taken off the ice. Janssen waited until after the play when his opponent was defenseless, and it was pretty obvious that he intended to hurt Kaberle.
In both instances, the hits were totally unnecessary. Both players who were hit suffered head injuries, which are extremely dangerous and potentially career-ending. The skaters who performed the cheap shots are noted goons, enforcers who try to cover up their lack of skill with physical play. They both targeted skilled players who are vital to the success of their teams. The NHL intervened with the Janssen incident, suspending him for three games. This light punishment is merely a slap on the wrist, and will do nothing to prevent this incident from happening again. Neil did not face any disciplinary action.
If the NHL wants to protect its players, it needs to hand out steeper punishments for these cheap shot artists. This will not only keep players on the ice, but it will maintain the integrity of the game. These two incidents are a black eye for the league, and need to be dealt with properly.