Sidney Crosby speaks up on the NHL’s head shot problem

Sidney Crosby speaks up on the NHL’s head shot problem

Finally, Sid the Kid (a.k.a. Sidney Crosby) has something to say. Pigs aren’t flying quite yet, but the National Hockey League’s best player and most marketable star is taking a pointed and outspoken stand on what may be the most important issue affecting the game today (aside, of course, from the fact that nobody cares about hockey in the United States): what to do about hits to the head?

The Canada native and Pittsburgh Penguins centre waded into the head shot controversy after taking two blows to his melon, first from the Washington Capitals Dave Steckel in the Winter Classic on January 1, and then from Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman a few days later. He’s been sidelined ever since with a concussion, and it looks like he’ll miss the NHL All-Star Game at the end of the month in Raleigh.

Normally quiet, deferential and unwilling to voice anything that remotely resembles an opinion, the shocks to his noodle seem to have awakened the world’s best player to the dangers of his sport. Now’s he angry and on the offensive, a scary set of circumstances for the NHL brass. So says the Globe’s Stephen Brunt:

Crosby took a simple open-ended question and ran with it, he went off-script, he said there was something fundamentally wrong with the way the NHL identified and penalized head shots.

“I didn’t like them. … When I look at those two hits, you talk about blindside, that’s a big word, unsuspecting player, there was no puck there on both of them. It was a direct hit to the head on both of them. If you go through the criteria, I think they fit all those,” the 23-year-old centre said. “I know it’s a fast game. I’ve been hit a thousand times. When you get hit like that, there’s nothing you can do. There’s no way to protect yourself.”

Not exactly a call to the barricades, but startling because it was the NHL’s meal ticket talking, its poster boy, its current great hope for expanding the game’s reach beyond its hardcore following.

The Crosby case is by no means an isolated incident. This week, the SharksScott Nichol was suspended for four games for a hit to the head, and last week it was the Calgary FlamesTom Kostopoulos who received a six-game suspension for breaking another player’s jaw. Another Sharks player, Joe Thornton, was given two games earlier this season after a crushing head shot on the St. Louis BluesDavid Perron that has kept the winger off the ice for more than two months.

Even the Toronto Maple Leafs got in on the act—of course, as usual, the Leafs are in on the wrong act—when Mike Brown received a three-game suspension of his own for a hit to the head of the CoyotesEd Jovanaski. And the list goes on and on.

Just because the Leafs’ players and management could probably use a couple thwacks to the head doesn’t mean the rest of the league does. The number of injuries and concussions in pro hockey is definitely a problem, and it’s good to see Crosby using his star status to say something about it. The only question now is if the NHL will listen.

• Sidney Crosby leaps head-first into head-shot controversy [Globe and Mail]
• Agents join injured Crosby in asking for action on head shots [Globe and Mail]
Crosby’s message deserves bigger stage [Globe and Mail]
• Cox: NHLers need to get smart about head shots [Toronto Star]
Crosby needs to send message to NHL [Toronto Sun]
• Tap on the brakes []

(Thumbnail image: Dan4th)