By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
October 13, 2011
On the ice, the biggest issue the NHL faces at the advent of the new season is the stringent discipline mandated by the controversial Brendan Shanahan, head of the league’s new player safety department. Shanahan has put into place the NHL’s most aggressive policies concerning players who hit opponents in the head to date. Echoing the NFL, and after NHL star Sidney Crosby was sidelined for the final months of the 2010 season because of a serious concussion caused by a on-ice blow to the head, Shanahan is using multi-game suspensions as his biggest weapon – a position decried by hockey hardliners, who argue that fighting has always been an integral part of the game.
Chief among Shanahan’s vocal critics is colorful CBC hockey analyst Don Cherry, who last week "unleashed a summer’s worth of venom" on Shanahan and "wailed about how the new method of message-sending in the game was players lining up other players and then intentionally missing them," according to the Globe & Mail. "I’d hate to be paying $175 to watch that stuff,” Cherry said. “Absolutely ridiculous what they’ve done. The players will not hit. Guaranteed. When you give an excuse to the players not to hit, they will not hit."
Cherry also went after former NHL players who applaud the new standards, calling them alcoholics and hypocrites, among other choice descriptors. "The ones that I am really disgusted with,” he said, “are the bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson…You turncoats, you hypocrites…You guys were fighters, and now you don’t want guys to make the same living you did."
Although Cherry apologized, the trio of former players he singled out for criticism issued a press release saying that they didn’t accept his apology, and hinting that they might sue. The three also called for “increased research" into fighting, head shots and post-concussion syndrome.
Perhaps the NHL should also look at penalizing the next logical step from the head shot: the low blow.