August 19, 2018

Ban The On-The-Fly Line Change

Eric Lindros, one of the game's all time great physical - and concussed - players has opened up quite the conversation. The man who crushed opponents all the way to the Hockey Hall of Fame says hockey should ban body checking in an effort to save players from brain injuries.

To say that is a drastic move is an understatement.

In the same article, Michael Traikos of the National, quotes the always articulate Ken Dryden, another former NHLer leading the charge for the NHL to make hockey safer from these scary brain injuries.

Dryden, who has also been a successful author, lawyer, businessman and parliamentarian, has been on his "life's mission" to do something about brain injuries in hockey since he authored the book Game Change, released last year. His message is consistent as always but not quite as dramatic as Lindros - eliminate all hits to the head - purposeful and accidental. And yes that includes fighting.

Dryden of course is 100% right. All head shots should be punished severely, especially ones with intent. Accidental ones are always controversial and inevitable. And to the NHL's credit they've really all but officially eliminated fighting now anyway, so we can officially ban it without the same backlash as say 15 years ago.

The NHL ultimately will go down Dryden's suggested path, one day. It just has to. The only reason I can think why they don't just go down the path now is the pending litigation involving former players over brain injuries. Perhaps too sudden of a rule change can be spun by the opposing lawyers as an admittance of guilt that will cost the league millions.

Lindros' suggestions are the very definition of an over-the-top dramatic statement that no one can foresee happening. You know, just like the people 50 years ago could never foresee the banning of fighting in hockey, but called for it anyway. It's part of the fabric of the game, the purists said. They were right, but the time has come. Perhaps the demise of bodychecking will come one day, too. And, given the excitement level of a no-hitting women's gold medal hockey game, maybe it's closer than we think.

Traikos does touch on the speed of the game being a big problem. The pace of the game is so fast now that incidental contact has significant chance of serious injury, be it to the head or to the body. As exciting as it is for hockey fans to witness, we need to slow the game down for the safety of the participants.

Dryden talks about a big change in hockey history and that is the length of each shift. Today's players go all out for 30 seconds and get off the ice, huffing and puffing after a hell-bent shift. It was not that long ago the average shift was more than 2 minutes. And the greats like Howe, Orr, Esposito and Gretzky sometimes played much more than that before going to the bench.

The game was much slower then. And this is where I would like to make a suggestion. A suggestion that is not so drastic eliminating hitting. A suggestion that may even create more offense.

Ban on-the-fly line changes.

If players have to wait until a stoppage of play before they can leave the ice, they will have to pace themselves better. It is certainly not a solution to all the dangers the current increasing pace of the game has, but it could be part of it.

And, interestingly, it could create offense. Goals are often scored when mistakes are made. Mistakes are more often made when players are tired.

And it could even tweak the way the game is played. Alexei Kovalev recently lamented about how the game is played with zero creativity nowadays. Perhaps slowing the pace of the game down would return the game to brilliant offensive teamwork like the days of the Soviets and Gretzky's Oilers.

And no one thought those games were dull.

Concussions and incidental contact will always be unpreventable side effects of playing hockey. Banning on-the-fly line changes would be a subtle move that could change the game - making it safer to player and more fun to watch.

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