The NHL is back but are rules hindering the sport?

Hockey is back! Hooray! Yahoo! OK, now that I’ve managed to calm myself down, the NHL is back in action and for kids across this campus, that’s going to mean a rapid decrease in classroom productivity. That’s a risk we all take when we choose a school in Western New York.

Since our government shut down this week, let’s discuss some of the new rules the NHL has rolled out.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and the Department of Player Safety have been hard at work for a couple of years now, rewriting the rulebook to ensure a safer playing environment for a sport that becomes more dangerous every year. Some of these efforts have been well intended. For example, blatant flying elbows to the head should be suspended. No argument here.

Nonetheless, when a player skates across the middle with his head down and gets laid out, is that the defenseman’s fault for not “pulling up”? When I was a kid, and I put my head down across the middle and got leveled, I learned a lesson not to do that.

I always wonder how an NFL quarterback can throw high over the middle, a safety can lay a hit on that receiver – with his shoulder, of course – and instead of talking about a poorly thrown pass, we’re talking about a “hit on a defenseless receiver.” Because it’s a defensive player’s responsibility in any sport to make sure his opponent is paying attention. That makes sense.

The truth is that the NHL follows NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s lead, taking precautionary steps to change the game in the name of safety that, in reality, do more to complicate the jobs of the players than promoting their safety.

The addition of hybrid icing will eliminate collisions in races for icing touches, making the game safer for defensemen while not really affecting the outcome of games. Realistically, this alteration won’t change the results of these plays one way or another. This rule change is fine by me.

Then again, what about fighting? What about the fact that general managers and owners are talking more and more about removing fighting from the game, when practically zero players are voicing the same concerns?

That’s because players know there is an intrinsic value to fighting. Call it momentum; call it accountability; call it whatever you want. The point is that, more often than not, it isn’t a sideshow, a point increasingly made in a cap era NHL where the “goon” is nearly extinct and fighters actually need to contribute to other areas of the game. This is why fighting occurs even in leagues in which it is outlawed and with players who don’t consider themselves fighters.

GMs and owners, on the other hand, are concerned with player safety, or more accurately, “I’m paying money for this guy; stop punching him!”

So while they discuss a ban to fighting, and likely won’t achieve it, it hasn’t stopped them from regulating it with a new rule: Players who remove their own helmets during a fight will get an extra two minutes. The idea is to reduce concussions on players hitting their heads falling to the ice.

It’s a nice idea that has little effect on players who don’t wear visors, but those who do wear visors most often remove their own helmets. Why? Because it is riskier to get punched in the face through a sheet of plastic than it is to maybe hit your head if you fall backwards. But the NHL would rather those fists fly with those visors on, risking the shards of plastic inches from the face or slicing your hand.

This point was made opening night when Mark Fraser of the Toronto Maple Leafs fought Travis Moen of the Montreal Canadiens. The two actually discussed whether or not to take off their helmets, which they ended up doing. This is the cost-benefit analysis the NHL is forcing on players: my safety versus the good of the team. That’s not fair and not necessary.

Oh, and in addition, players are no longer allowed to tuck in their jerseys because it will apparently help fans with player recognition.  You know, the fans that can’t read the names plastered across the shoulders in giant letters.

The NHL is slowly moving down the road of overregulation of its players, of a game that is a better product than at any time in the last 30 years. Let’s not let a Big Brother mentality unnecessarily hinder players from doing their jobs.

That’s the kind of governing that needs a shutdown.