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Cooke's hit on Savard

Kanada Kev

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Getting serious about headshots starts now

Olympics, trade deadline, now … headshots.

As the NHL’s general managers converge on Boca Raton, Fla., we’re going to find out if the promises made back in November were an actual breakthrough or just lip service. It sure seemed like the group wanted to eliminate “blindside†collisions while keeping aggressive, but clean hits as part of the game.

Thanks to Matt Cooke, whose destruction of Marc Savard was eerily similar to Mike Richards/David Booth, there will be a lot of emotion surrounding this debate.

Getting a consensus, however, is not going to be easy. For one thing, there is not a desire to radically change the game. An automatic penalty for a hit to the head? Not going to happen. One of the NHL’s talking points is that we’re only talking about five or six hits a year out of 60,000. If you believe the problem is that small, you don’t drop the atomic bomb.

But that doesn’t mean this is a one-step solution. There are a lot of factors the NHL must address, or this is doomed to fail.


Rob DiMaio played 18 years in the NHL, his career ending in 2006 after a borderline hit by Guillaume Latendresse. DiMaio was an aggressive player – had to be to keep his job – yet averaged less than one penalty minute per game. He’s got a good perspective on this issue.

“If you really want to eliminate head shots, you have to make the penalty so severe that players will really think about it,†he said. “You can’t have them thinking, ‘Well, if I hit this guy and I get suspended, it will be for only one game.’â€

Boy, do I agree with that 100 per cent.

If the GMs really want to eliminate the Richards/Booth and Cooke/Savard hits, Step I must be Fear of God. Simply tell players that anyone who does it is getting a long-term suspension. (What’s long-term? You could start at eight games, chosen arbitrarily because it’s 10 per cent of the season. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

Then deliver. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time offender. It doesn’t matter if you averaged three penalty minutes a season. If you do it, you’re going to be punished. Automatically.

(By the way, the GMs should also consider penalizing players who intentionally make themselves vulnerable to blindside hits. It might have to be after the fact/upon review, but you know there will be a diver or two who tries it. Can’t be allowed to happen.)


An enormous – but understated – impediment to consistent supplemental discipline is the individual teams. The competitiveness extends beyond the ice and into the owners’ boxes.

Let’s say, for example, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are meeting in the Eastern Conference Final. Five minutes into Game 1, Cooke launches himself at Alexander Ovechkin and knocks him out of the game. Within 30 seconds, George McPhee is calling Colin Campbell. Ted Leonsis is calling Gary Bettman. While trying to calm down those two, the conversations temporarily drop out because of call waiting. It’s Ray Shero and Mario Lemieux for the defence.

Two nights later, Jason Chimera runs Sidney Crosby out of the building. Now the Penguins are making the same accusations the Capitals did, while Washington’s executives are exhuming Johnnie Cochran just like Pittsburgh tried 48 hours earlier.

It’s ridiculous. And, it happens all the time (cough, Jeremy Jacobs, cough, cough). Teams must be told if there is an incident in one of their games, there will be a “don’t call us, we’ll call you philosophy.†Everyone gets a chance to make some kind of statement/presentation, but you’re just going to have to deal with the fact that if your guy crosses the line, he’s getting a spanking.

If there is resistance, Bettman/Campbell should ask the owners how much money they are paying to injured players.


This is a big one. To be fair, the NHL – under the leadership of Kris King – is taking the initiative on this one. Earlier this season, Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer showed me some of the changes that are coming.

Several Detroit players were using shoulder and elbow pads that had soft padding covering the hard exterior shells. That’s a step, for sure. It’s not enough that players are bigger, faster, stronger and better conditioned than ever. They’ve also got body armour right out of The Hurt Locker. DiMaio, who is now a Blues’ scout, had a real interesting suggestion.

“In the NHL, I wore the same shoulder pads I used in midget,†he said. “I could feel the hits. These guys don’t feel anything. That gives players an extra feeling of power.â€

It’s thoughtful. I don’t know if “weakening†the equipment (for lack of a better term) is possible. But I was really struck by the suggestion and wanted to include it.


The game is so fast and space so limited. There is no way the NHL can completely eliminate injuries, because even clean contact is so violent. One junior coach, Dave Cameron of the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, holds special practices where players are taught not to directly hit anyone whose back is turned to them. That’s a great idea.

But it’s not only the hitters who have to do a better job of taking responsibility, it’s the hittees.

It’s become acceptable now for players to face the boards, exposing their backs while trying to protect the puck along the wall. That’s a bad trend. The crackdown on interference (a good thing) allows forecheckers to arrive even faster. Defencemen who try to protect the puck facing the boards are going to get clobbered. The collisions look awful, but in many cases, it’s not anywhere near a deliberate attempt to hurt.

It’s not that sexy to say, but the honest truth is that more and more injuries are happening because players are putting themselves in vulnerable positions. John Mitchell is a good example. He was knocked out of Saturday’s game by Chris Neil. There was no penalty, nor should there have been.

It’s easy to blame the aggressor. But there are cases where they’re not at fault. Coaches/players have to a do a better job of realizing when strategy puts skaters at risk.


A few years ago, the CFL’s coaches were really concerned about dangerous collisions on special teams plays. Players on the return team were allowed to block any potential tacklers from the front or the side. The field bosses believed the ones from the side were overly dangerous and voted to change the rule, making it legal to block only from the front.

It made things safer, but had a negative side effect: nearly eliminating punt/kick-return touchdowns, a huge part of the Canadian game. A Gizmo Williams couldn’t exist under those conditions. Eventually, the league voted to repeal the change.

That’s relevant here because there are many GMs who worry about going too far, removing hitting from the game. No one wants to see that. The CFL example shows that if you shouldn’t be afraid to try something, because it can always be reversed.


I never, ever thought I’d be the one to suggest this. I can’t help but wonder if it’s time to take out the instigator rule, but ONLY on a trial basis. A lot of players – and I’m not talking about one-dimensional goons – believe that one of the biggest reasons we are seeing so many injuries is that some guys are “too brave.†Meaning: they really aren’t so tough, but are allowed to play like it because of limited consequences.

The biggest concern: I absolutely hate it when clean hits lead to fits, and there is certainly potential for that to get even worse. If the NHL is not going to take the lead with harsher punishments, then maybe it should be up to the players to regulate the game on-ice.

If things get out of control, you can always reinstate it. But there is certainly some merit to the thought that some guys are playing tougher than they really are.

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The easiest way to solve this is that the player who injures is suspended for as long as the player he hit is injured.

Are you f-in serious? That is stupid on so many levels...

- How can you determine how long that will be in order to assess his penalty

- What does "recovered" mean (some players are never the same after hits like that)

- What about fakers and embelishment of injuries?

- What if Savard popped up, no suspension at all?

- How does a GM manage his cap based on this kind of suspension?

Anyway, I could list reasons why that will never happen all day...

They just have to say it's minimum 8 games for a headshot to an unsuspecting player. Leaves grey area for them to increase, but at least sends the message that you're getting 8 if you do it.

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Guest Low Roller

'Eye for an eye' will put the fear into players. They will think twice before they plow a guy into the boards from behind or deliver an elbow or shoulder sandwich to someones face.

And yes, of course I realize that this will never happen.

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I know it's been said elsewhere (including the Friedman blog), but it's uncanny how similar this hit was to the Richards-Booth one.

Devil's advocate says no suspension, it's a legal hit until they change the rulebook. Which leads to the real issue - Why is it still ok to viciously propel yourself directly into a guy's head as long as a) you lead with your shoulder, and B) the guy has touched the puck?

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Guest Low Roller

From today's Boston Herald:


The fans want blood at today's rematch between Boston and Pittsburgh according to a poll conducted by the paper. In seemingly idiotic Boston fashion, 63% of people asked would rather see the Bruins get revenge on Matt Cooke as opposed to getting a single point for tonight's game.

The league is actually crapping itself a little bit over the consequences of not giving Cooke a suspension because Colin Campbell will be meeting with the GMs and coaches of both teams before the game, and watching the game from the stands.

Let the bodies hit the floor!

Edited by Low Roller
oops wrong link
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The league is actually crapping itself a little bit over the consequences of not giving Cooke a suspension because Colin Campbell will be meeting with the GMs and coaches of both teams before the game, and watching the game from the stands.

Let the bodies hit the floor!

Meeting with Gm's and coaches + Cambell watching from the stands = bodies hit the floor?

Lucic may fight Cooke. It will be short and sweet and unsatisfying to everyone.

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I didn't see the hit on the tv - only the clip in this thread... but I have to say - it doesn't look like a suspension to me.

It does look like Savard was leaned over, finishing his shot, head down, turning/going sideways. Cooke got him when he wasn't looking but it didn't look like he picked his elbow up. In that clip it looked more like Savard's head happened to be elbow level and got caught.

This is the NHL. They're supposed to have their heads up and when they don't they're dead meat. Stevens made a career out of it. Sure shoulder is better, but if a guy has his head down he has his head down. Go back to peewee.

Now if the elbow is lift/lead with, if there is a jump/charge or something else, then sure call it, but incidental contact with the head. pff. (and I realize they're going to change the rule to outlaw hitting the head - I like the elbow pad change ideas more. The game is too quick to stop a hit midway because someone bent over and got their head in the way)

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