Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, General Counsel for VIA, stated “the NHL seems unable to take appropriate measures to protect the physical integrity of its players.”
One owner, the Canadiens Geoff Molson, demanded quick action saying that, “Players’ safety in hockey must become the ultimate priority and the situation must be addressed immediately.”
On Monday, Commissioner Gary Bettman, tabled the league’s response to the outcry from its constituents. Upon first look at Bettman’s document, it’s nothing more than a box of Cracker Jacks. After getting through the sweet-flavoured caramel-coated popcorn, there was nothing of great value underneath.
“There’s no one single thing causing concussions,” said Bettman. “There is no magic bullet to deal with this. I know that it’s an emotional, intense subject, particularly for our fans. We get it.”
No, you don’t get it. That’s apparent from reading the plan.
“You really have to understand what’s going on,” concluded Bettman.
We do, commissioner. Many of us do. We only wish that you were keeping up.
It would appear that the NHL’s five-step plan was little more than a damage control exercise to help calm angry fans and nervous sponsors. The tension has been growing around the league after a series of damaging blows where the punishment (little or none) didn’t fit the crime. That tension was elevated to a fever pitch after Zdeno Chara’s vicious hit on Max Pacioretty was brushed aside by the NHL disciplinarians.
I agree with those who contend that a single event shouldn’t necessarily drive major policy change. The other side of the coin is that the league is using their five-step plan as a proof that they acted correctly in the decision not to suspend Chara. There’s nothing in the plan set out by Bettman that would counteract the Chara ruling in anyway.
If the five-step plan was in place prior to the incident, Pacioretty would still be injured and Chara would still get away scott-free.
It has been carefully crafted to ensure that the finger of blame is pointed away from the NHL offices. Changes exist for everyone but the league themselves. And it is within Bettman’s cabal and their interpretations of the rules, that major problems exist.
Let’s take a look at what the NHL is saying (I’ll paraphrase):
- Make modifications to that bad equipment.
- Fix those bad arenas.
- Fine those bad coaches and team owners who keep employing and sending out goons.
- Get the doctors away from those bad athletic therapists who put the team’s interests ahead of the player’s safety.
- And finally, we haven’t quite figured this all out yet. So we will put together a panel to study the issues.
As I argued in “Blame it on the Rink“, the league is bent on avoiding measures to deter bad behaviour. They are also reluctant to blame problems on incompetent staff like Colin Campbell and faulty disciplinary procedures.
It is incumbent upon the NHL to institute rules to protect their players from career-threatening and life-threatening injuries. This will only result if substantial disciplinary measures are in place and are applied in a consistent manner. Currently deterence is completely absent in the process.
What Bettman announced today was new and shiny. Unfortunately the measures will have little meaningful impact on a problem that gets closer to producing a fatality everyday.
For more reading on this topic, see the companion piece by Kristina Ashqar titled “Bettman’s 5-Step Plan: Isn’t it Missing Something?”
(photo by Getty)