The term "old warhorse" applies to the Colorado Avalanche's Adam Foote in only the most flattering context.
Foote, at the age of 38, is in his first year as captain of the NHL's most surprising team, one that few gave any chance of qualifying for the playoffs let alone challenging for the league's overall points lead. In a year when future Hall Of Famer Joe Sakic retired and last year's co-scoring leader Ryan Smyth was traded for salary-cap reasons, it didn't seem likely or even possible that Colorado would contend for anything except the first overall choice in the 2010 entry draft.
And yet, here is the Avalanche, humming along at a 10-1-2 clip behind Craig Anderson's extraordinary goaltending and contributions from all the young prospects in the organization, giddily embracing NHL life. Who knew it would be this easy?
Foote, the last remaining link to the franchise's days in Quebec City, remains both a physical presence and a fierce competitor - old school right down to the lines on his face and the scars on his body.
Foote's teammate, Darcy Tucker, was lost to a concussion last week on a hit from behind by the Carolina Hurricanes' Tuomo Ruutu. A few days later, the Florida Panthers' David Booth was concussed by a hit to the head delivered by the Philadelphia Flyers' Mike Richards. The Edmonton Oilers' Sheldon Souray still isn't playing, after he received a concussion, thanks to a hit from the Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla early in the season.
Iginla, like Richards, escaped official sanction from the NHL for the hit. In fact, the NHL's only reaction to the incident came after Oilers' coach Pat Quinn complained - too loudly in the league's view - about the dangerous circumstances of the contact and how it would have been handled in a bygone era. For his burst of candour, Quinn received a $10,000 (all currency U.S.) fine. That'll teach him for speaking his mind.
In an NHL season that lasts 1,230 games and where body contact is an everyday fact of life, there will always be a percentage of questionable hits and unfortunate injuries. That fact of NHL life is unlikely ever to change. The question isn't necessarily how to eliminate injuries completely. It is how to meaningfully reduce the ones that stem from reckless play.
Or, as the question was put to Foote the other day, even if there are no easy answers to the ongoing issue of dealing head shots that result in concussions, logically, there must be answers.
To Foote, a good starting point would be an NHL justice system with a little more teeth than it currently demonstrates.
"There's more disrespect for the opponent than there ever was - and they just have to be harsher on the suspensions," said Foote in an interview. "If guys (such as Ruutu) are going to miss two games or three games, that's not enough. I worry now because of the speed, strength and size of the guys. Every year, they get bigger and stronger. If they keep hitting each other with more disrespect - from behind, when the guy is two feet from the board - someone's going to get seriously hurt and somebody's gotta be responsible for that.
"I just don't think it's going in the right direction. They've gotta clamp down on it, I think."
In drawing on an 18-year career perspective - not to mention the 1,437 penalty minutes he piled up in 1,040 career games prior to this year - Foote stressed that a push along the boards with two players engaged in a puck battle is perfectly OK with him. It is the long runs from across the ice, when one player takes a bead on another with malice aforethought, that he finds more disturbing.
Foote's voice joined a growing chorus of NHL players, former and current, trying to change a deeply engrained culture. The NHL general managers' meeting, normally held during the preseason in Chicago, will this year convene in Toronto in the second week of November, on the day after the Hockey Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies. The issue of head shots - and introducing a penalty specifically to address them - will be on the agenda again, not for the first time and not for the last.