Colour Commentary: Time to take dangerous hits out of hockey

Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension will hopefully set an example

In a preseason NHL game between the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues on Sept. 30, Capitals forward Tom Wilson received a match penalty for a hit on Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist crossed the blue line into the Capitals’s zone when Wilson levelled him with an open-ice blindside hit to the head. Sundqvist left the game with facial injuries and has not returned to play since.

On Oct. 3, Wilson received a 20-game suspension from the NHL, which he is appealing. This is Wilson’s fourth suspension in his career, which all came in the past year. His last suspension was during last season’s playoffs, when he received three games for another hit to the head, leaving Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese with a broken jaw.

I applaud the NHL’s effort to remove dangerous hits to the head from the game. The league is sending a clear message: you can’t be head-hunting your opponents anymore.

Hockey has historically been a violent sport. It’s the only sport besides boxing and mixed martial arts where you’re actually allowed fighting. Hockey in the late 20th century practically sold itself through violence to American fans. According to Drop Your Gloves, there were 1,100 fights during the 1987-88 regular season, an average of 1.10 per game. Last season, that number was only 322 fights, or 0.25 per game.

Knowing the dangers of violent actions, the league has been steadily improving player safety in recent years. Owners see players as an opportunity to generate money, so they can’t afford to have them out of play with concussions. The league’s department of player safety started giving stricter punishment for hits to the head after the 2010-11 season, and a concussion protocol was implemented in 2016.

As a fan, I’m sick and tired of seeing players lay on the ice unconscious. The effects of a concussion go way beyond a player’s career, so why are players still going after their opponents’ head? Hopefully this suspension will make them think twice before going elbow-first into a hit.

When the suspension was announced, I saw comments on social media claiming the NHL has changed, and it’s not what it used to be (i.e. 1980s fight club hockey). Do fans seriously want to see a type of hockey that could ruin people’s lives? Unfortunately for them, hockey is changing for the better. I would rather watch an NHL that benefits from skilled players and leaves fighters out of it.

There’s something wrong with people who enjoy seeing players hurt. That’s not what sports are about.

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