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Headhunting in hockey


“Sellout crowds,” the one phrase that every owner and investor in the National Hockey League wants to hear on a daily basis. For years the NHL has become more of a street fight than a sport based around athleticism and grace.

The goon has become the new superstar; the harder the hit, the louder the cheers. All of the major sports networks’ highlight reels have become saturated with grueling hit after hit.

In an office in downtown New York, Commissioner Gary Bettman sits behind his desk, contemplating the future of the NHL and how he can protect his “star” players, who are often targets of these almost tribal headhunters, while at the same time keeping an increasingly blood-thirsty fan base appeased.

This season has been one of the most devastating, in terms of concussions and head injuries in the history of the NHL. Pittsburgh Penguins Captain and the face of the NHL for all intents and purposes, Sidney Crosby, missed a majority of the season after a couple of vicious hits coming at the hands of David Steckel and Victor Hedman.  

The post-season has fared no better.  In the first round series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Phoenix Coyotes, the world witnessed one of the most vicious hits in NHL history, when Coyotes forward Raffi Torres launched himself from the ice and deliberately collided with the head of Blackhawks’ superstar Marian Hossa. This hit resulted in a 25-game suspension by the NHL.

The consensus among everyone in the NHL remains, headhunting can certainly lead to careers being drastically shortened. As studies about concussions and the effects they have on long-term health become clearer, many, including those in the ranks of the Players Union, are determined to find a way to put an end to the brutality without affecting the appeal of the game.

How this will be achieved no one really knows; however, one thing is for certain: Much like the NFL’s crackdown following the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, a heavy hand and a commissioner who wants to see his league’s image return to glory are the first steps in the right direction.


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