There’s no more vibrant and gratifying time to be a hockey fan than the cusp of a new National Hockey League season. All the teams are undefeated; optimism abounds even in cities where fans know in their heart of hearts that their team is destined to be an also-ran.
In keeping with the anything-is-possible spirit that precedes every season, we have three wishes for 2013-14.
Firstly, that a Canadian team captures the Stanley Cup for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens did it in 1993.
One might think that, in a 30-team league, the odds would have smiled on one of the franchises from the game’s birthplace at some point over the past two decades.
One would be wrong.
Secondly, that the NHL and its players take meaningful action to stamp out head shots.
There have been baby steps in this regard, and the standard set in the exhibition season for suspending players for violent or careless play is encouraging. But the league must act forcefully to prevent, deter and punish blows to the head, especially now that the devastating consequences of brain injuries are beyond dispute.
The NHL must also do more to address the treatment and recovery of concussed players. More stringent and coercive application of the existing concussion protocol is an obvious place to start.
Lastly, that the league and the players’ union take a significant step toward banning fisticuffs outright.
The old arguments as to why fighting should be tolerated, or the idea that vigilantism is not only necessary but somehow admirable, simply don’t hold up. No league that purports to care about player safety can, with a straight face, continue to allow said players to punch each other in the nose with relative impunity.
Serious injuries, including concussions, happen in hockey fights – Buffalo’s Corey Tropp had his jaw shattered by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Jamie Devane in the preseason. Other manly-man sports like football and rugby have essentially done away with fighting without making their game any less violent, hazardous or crowd-pleasing; those cases are instructive.
The preceding wishes are made with the understanding none will likely come true, but that’s no reason not to hope.
It is a hopeful time of year, after all.