Category Archives: Issues (concussions, lockout, etc.)

Why not this Simple Tweak to the NHL’s “Suspension” Rules?

The rash of suspensions handed down during the preseason and opening weeks of the season brought to mind an idea I’ve been pondering for refining the NHL’s suspension rules, specifically, tweaking the rules to give some consideration to the team incurring a loss due to the infraction underlying the suspension.

Suppose the Canucks are playing the Blues in the first round of the playoffs, and David Backes gives Ryan Kesler a head shot resulting in a mild concussion that keeps Kesler out of the lineup for a couple of games. Backes would probably get a two-game suspension, meaning the Canucks’ loss of Kesler is matched by Blues’ being without Backes’ service for the same length of time. In a case such as this, the aggrieved team gets some justice.

However, suppose the offending hit happens during the regular season. Now, the chances of there being an equitable outcome goes down considerably, as the Blues’ loss of Backes would be of no direct benefit to the Canucks. . .and, in fact, could actually end up hurting the Canucks even further. Consider the following (albeit, unlikely) scenario. The hit occurs right near the end of the regular season, with the Canucks battling Anaheim for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Further, the Blues’ final four games of the season are as follows:

Anaheim at St. Louis
St. Louis at Anaheim
St. Louis at Vancouver
Vancouver at St. Louis

With this scenario, Backes’ suspension takes him out of the Blues’ two games against Anaheim, giving the Ducks a better chance of winning these games. . .and thus, beating out Vancouver for eighth place in the West. And his return for the two games against the Canucks makes the Blues tougher to beat in Vancouver’s attempt to overtake the Ducks.

Given that the Canucks have lost Kesler, it is adding insult to injury to have their rivals for the last playoff berth benefit from the suspension to Backes; it would be much fairer if Backes played the two games against Anaheim, and was kept out of the two games against the Canucks. Of course, he current NHL rules do not allow for this kind of justice. . .but a simple tweak could open the door to justice being done.

The problem here stems from the fact that there is no flexibility in when a suspension begins; it is always “the game following the offending act.” Would it be so hard to change this to give the aggrieved team a say in when the suspension is to be served? So, in the scenario set out above, Vancouver could decide that Backes not start his suspension right away, but rather, sit out the last two games of the season–the games against the Canucks–thus compensating Vancouver’s loss of Kesler with the benefit of playing a weakened Blues team, and also, the benefit of having St. Louis at their best against Anaheim, as the Canucks battle the Ducks for that last playoff berth.

The NHL’s suspension system is currently a mess, and this proposal does not purport to solve all of its woes. However, I would suggest it constitutes a good first step in revamping a system  in dire need of change.

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Hawks/Wings with 12 “back-to-backs” but Rangers with only 6. . .Preferential Treatment?

images-1I happened to be looking at the Rangers’ February schedule in a calendar-grid format, and was shocked to see no back-to-back games. How could that be possible? With all the talk of the schedule this season having to be so compressed resulting in the necessity of more back-to-backs, how could the Rangers get away with none for a whole month?

I suspected some “preferential treatment” might be going on here, prompting me to work through the schedules of all the teams to see if the Rangers did indeed have fewer back-to-backs than the other teams. And, sure enough, I found they have a league low six, while Chicago and Detroit have a face a whooping twelve each!

It was also interesting to note that among the teams with only seven back-to-backs is Boston, also noteworthy for the fact that their last one is on April 10-11 while 28 of the other 29 teams have back-to-backs closer to the beginning of the playoffs than that. . .and 13 of them have two or more.

It could be argued it is the less complicated travel arrangements for Atlantic and Northeast Division teams that results in the schedule-makers needing to resort to back-to-back games less often with them than with teams such as Chicago and Detroit that have a lot more traveling to do. However, if this were indeed the case, then a team like the Vancouver Canucks–who arguably have the most traveling to do of all 30 teams–would be up at the high end of list with Chicago and Detroit. But that is not the case. Rather, the Canucks are right near the bottom end of the list, with only seven back-to-backs all season.

It should not be a surprise that “schedule manipulation” might be going on, given what has happened in the past. For example, back decades ago, the schedule would be arranged every year such that the Montreal Canadiens would, from early in the season, be a little ahead of the other teams in terms of “games played.” Why? To increase their chances of being in first place at the quarter-pole, and then at the halfway point. Of course, this scheduling was not giving them an unfair advantage over the other teams; if anything, having to play more games than the other teams in the early going would have been a disadvantage. But who’s to say schedule manipulation is not happening today for the very purpose of giving some teams an advantage, especially given the vast disparity in the number of back-to-back games among the 30 teams in this truncated NHL season?

Want to reduce concussions in the NHL? A modest proposal. . .

Aggressive hockey playerby GARY YAMASAKI   Given the intensity of play at the NHL level, it is obviously going to be impossible to eliminate concussions altogether. This is not to say that nothing can be done to stem the epidemic of concussions among NHL players, but the league has been moving at a glacial pace in instituting changes that have any hope of making a significant difference. Fortunately, there is one change that could almost instantly reduce the impact concussions are having on NHL players.

The change relates to the helmets the players wear, or more specifically, the protective liners in the helmets. A standard hockey helmet is fitted with a liner made of EPP (expanded polypropylene), and this dense foam does afford a significant degree of protection. However, the shock-absorbing capabilities of EPP are not adequate to protect the brain in cases of major impacts to the head. This is why we do not let our children simply wear hockey helmets when riding bikes. Bike helmets have protective liners made of EPS (expanded polystyrene). This is like a very dense styrofoam, and its superior shock-absorbing capabilities stem from its actually crushing upon the impact of a skull slamming against it as the helmet smashes into a hard surface.

So here is the modest proposal. Why don’t NHL players simply switch over to wearing helmets with EPS liners? They wouldn’t be able to do this immediately, as none are currently available. But for the right price, I’m sure helmet manufacturers will get right on it. Actually, it would only involve making modifications to existing helmet shells to accommodate a replaceable liner (an EPS liner would need to be replaced after any impact strong enough to cause it to crush) and arranging for the production of the liners themselves.

Obviously, having to replace these liners on a regular basis would not be cheap, but the cost would be a drop in the bucket in comparison to the health benefits enjoyed by the players.

Note to Gary Bettman: “when you make an apology you should MAKE AMENDS too”

7797374.binby GARY YAMASAKI   With the NHL back in full swing, it would be nice simply to forget the lockout ever happened. . .but I can’t. I just can’t move past my indignation towards Gary Bettman for all the damage I feel he caused (he even makes me feel embarrassed I am named “Gary”!)

Sure, Bettman issued an apology, but hordes of fans have wondered whether he was truly sorry. . .me included. It would have helped me a lot if he had accompanied the apology with some sort of tangible display of making amends. A gesture to demonstrate in concrete terms that the apology was not just hollow words. A gesture that would actually cost Bettman something.

And I’ve come up with a plan. Why doesn’t Bettman voluntarily give up his tickets to this year’s Stanley Cup finals (that would cost him something), and make them the object of a league-wide free lottery. Thus, a Bettman sacrifice would provide some benefit to the fans in the form of a game in which all the fans could participate.

In fact, let’s take this a step further. Why doesn’t Bettman also voluntarily relinquish to the winning fan the commissioner’s privilege of handing the Stanley Cup to the winning captain! That would really cost him something. And the sight of a fan, and not Bettman, handing the Cup to the winning captain should provide all fans with a good dose of satisfaction.