It is what happens when you are young and indestructible, this tendency to overlook the base economics of hockey’s crisis of consciousness.
Few are better positioned to talk about it than the New York Rangers’ Brad Richards, who emerged from the shadows of a concussion this summer to sign a nine-year, $60-million (U.S.) free-agent contract.
In an interview Thursday, Richards estimated that half the NHL has already adjusted its thinking about head shots and won’t have difficulty heeding Sidney Crosby’s call to eliminate them from the game.
“The problem is, half the league has to keep a job and if they don’t do it, they might not be playing the next game,” Richards said. “You have to involve everybody – coaches, management, the league. Everybody has to buy in. If a coach is a little less hard on a guy because he didn’t take a guy’s head off, then that player might buy in, too.”
Richards’ sentiments deserve consideration because while he isn’t a thug, neither is he some left-leaning effete. Ask him about fighting and whether banning that part of the game isn’t the most logical outgrowth of eliminating head shots, and he is equally clear.
“You accept a fight,” said Richards, who scored 28 goals and collected 67 assists with the Dallas Stars in 2010-11 and missed 10 games with post-concussion syndrome after colliding with Sami Pahlsson. “An elbow to the jaw is not the same as engaging in a fight. I know it looks cowardly, but you can always get out of a fight. Players can’t get out of having their bell rung.”
This was supposed to be a summer of calm for the NHL before negotiations on a new collective agreement begin, but that has not been the case. The deaths of pugilists Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, and Wednesday’s crash of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl charter jet, have rained hammer blows on the game. On a sliding scale of severity, the body count has even overshadowed Crosby’s undefined path and the revelation that the Boston Bruins say Marc Savard’s career is likely over.
So let’s give Richards the last word, then. Let’s let a man of brutal honesty take us out. He still won’t buy that the next logical step after removing head shots would be a game misconduct for fighting, but that’s okay. He is prepared to engage on a different level.
Maybe those who have linked head shots and fighting and wonder how you can allow one without the other really do have it wrong. Maybe allowing a player to punch another player into a concussive state just because they both dropped their gloves, while preventing a player from blindsiding another into a similar state, is a 50-50 bargain worth settling.
That, too, is an economic argument. Fans love fighting, and as Richards said: “I have had a lot of good friends and teammates whose jobs were that they were asked to fight sometimes. I’ve won a Stanley Cup with them. They’re all great people and have families.
“But I don’t think it would be an issue to take head shots out,” he added. “It happens for a while, and it becomes a norm. It’s no different than hitting from behind. You’ll still have incidents, to be sure, but I don’t think the idea’s as crazy as people think.
“If you actually sat in a locker room with actual players, not media, you’d find [banning head shots]is not a big deal. You’d hear: ‘We still love the game and we still love playing it. If that’s what we have to do, then do it.’”