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The Malik Report

More clutching and grabbing does not yield a ‘safer’ game

I wrote this as a response to an article Paul posted, but I feel so passionatly pissed off about the issue that I’m gonna use my soapbox to say what I feel about the ridiculous levels of obstruction and otherwise uncalled infractions that the NHL has clearly told its referees to ignore in advance of a set of GM’s meetings on Monday and Tuesday where the gentlemen in charge of the game want to reintroduce the red line to supposedly reintroduce creativity, back the trap up twenty feet and prevent concussions:

It seems rather obvious to me that the NHL’s already tossed out a mandate to, “Slow down the game to make it safer” via allowing everything but horizontal stick fouls and the, “If he falls, it’s a call” penalties, but the refs are letting far more than the grabs, gropes, wrestling, football tackling and the kinds of moving and stationary picks that literally prevent players from getting to the puck or separate puck carriers from scoring chances by any means—we’re seeing just as much, if not more players lining their opponents up for vicious collisions via you-stop-him-I’ll-rail-him plays (see: Mike Green) and some absolutely ridiculous hacks and whacks to hands, wrists and ankles, dangerous trips, slew-foots, kneeing, butt-ending, boarding, etc., all of that crap is being let go to “protect” the players.

To spare the players’ heads, the league’s told its referees to allow everything else go, and the stupid irony thereof is that as long as players continue to skate into collisions at full speed—which will never change regardless of whether there’s a red line in play or whether obstruction and everything but the stupidest ticky-tack fouls are allowed, because players are still “finishing” their opponents and are charging into checks because charging was all but eliminated from the rulebook a long time ago—and all these added bumps, pulls, tugs and especially hard checks into the boards are just as likely to cause a player’s brain to jostle around in his skull as collisions at high speed are because any lateral acceleration of the head means the possibility of head trauma.

It’s force equals mass times acceleration, not force equals mass times speed, and between hard shoulder and elbow pads, the size and strength of players and the fact that helmets are designed to prevent severely traumatic brain injuries and skull fractures, not concussions, and because guys getting popped in the chin, cheek, temple or even just getting bumped in ways which cause their heads to jerk back and forth in a violent manner, and that all those different ways of imparting lateral acceleration to the head can yield concussions just as easily as two players skating into each other at high speed…

All the NHL’s done by empowering its officials to call fewer penalties is to rob fans of scoring chances and rob fans of entertainment value by returning the game to the depths of its pre-lockout snoozefests as teams happily play defense, defense and more defense to drag games toward overtime and shootouts.

Not calling obstruction and allowing “playoff rules” levels of hacking, whacking and picking to occur during the regular season does nothing to improve player safety. It just decreases the amount of bang fans receive for their hard-earned bucks…

And preventing one kind of violent collision by encouraging all other sorts of vicious, injury-inducing violence is utterly, utterly stupid.

[edit/update: Wings GM Ken Holland spoke to USA Today’s Kevin Allen about the red line issue, and I think that in the age of digital video recorders and computer programs which can tag plays and produce highlight clips for coaches to study during intermissions—if not stoppages in play—he’s underestimating coaches’ resolve to break down the game:

“Everyone thought taking the red line out was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but coaches have now had seven years to figure it out,” Holland said. “You can put the red line back in, but in five to seven years, coaches are going to figure out that, too.”

I give them half a season, at most, to adjust and re-acclimate their players to a red line.[/end edit]

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Evilpens's avatar

Amen ! wtf don’t these “Hockey Experts” understand that Bigger, Faster Players x Same size Ice Surface = More Injuries & in particular Concussions

Want to cut down on injuries? go 4x4 or make the ice surface bigger

NHLPA will NEVER let the 1st happen & the owner won’t do the 2nd 1

Posted by Evilpens on 03/11/12 at 06:41 PM ET


This.  An infinite number of times, this.

Thanks, George for succinctly putting in words everything I’ve been thinking while watching hockey the past few months.

Posted by Valek from Chicago on 03/11/12 at 07:08 PM ET

DrewBehr's avatar

In Malik We Trust.

Posted by DrewBehr from The Mitten on 03/11/12 at 07:35 PM ET


Wow, I thought I was the only one watching the game slide back into the abyss with clutching grabbing and so on. Since about the new year it seems the refs have let everything go and now the league wants the red line back in, what a joke. When will the league realize Hockey is not soccer, fans don’t want to see 1-0 games every night. Im not advocating Lacrosse scores either just the middle ground of around 5.7 to 6 goals a game. Historically this would be considered average scoring for the game so plenty of 2-1 games would still exist but we still could have plenty of 4-3 and even some 5-4 games. I like a 2-1 game as much as the next guy but currently there is nothing special about them when it seems every game is so low-scoring. And now they want the two-line pass back, didnt Eric Lindros mention this first and since then it has gained alot of attention? Funny but Eric Lindros recieved a ton of big hits that led to concussions all with the two-line pass in place, how come it didn’t protect him.  Also, what ever happened to reducing goalie gear. they look absurd out on the ice.

Posted by Patrick Oneill from Yonkers NY on 03/11/12 at 08:23 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Great post, George. I am all for bigger ice and no touch icing too.

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 03/11/12 at 08:25 PM ET

shazam88's avatar

Funny but Eric Lindros recieved a ton of big hits that led to concussions all with the two-line pass in place, how come it didn’t protect him.

Posted by Patrick Oneill from Yonkers NY on 03/11/12 at 06:23 PM ET

Apples and oranges. Lindros thought he could skate past Scott Stevens and others while looking at his feet.  No rule can make up for a lack of brain power.

Posted by shazam88 from SoCal on 03/11/12 at 08:43 PM ET


This is not exactly rocket science.  If you want to make the game safer you have to drastically increase the length and amount of suspensions for illegal hits and illegal contact.  It doesn’t matter how big the ice surface is, within the realm of possibility of it being increased, anyway.

If instead of 2 or 3 games guys would get 15 or 20 games for elbows to the head or hits to the head… do you know what we wouldn’t see too much of anymore?  Hits to the head, that’s what.

George is right that clutch and grab doesn’t really make the game safer, it just makes it easier for the third guy to come in and blow up someone held up by a teammate.

If the NHL and NHLPA actually decide they want to make the game safer, we’ll see much larger suspensions.  If they don’t, we won’t.  Every single other thing about this topic is completely and 100% lip-service, and that’s it.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 03/11/12 at 09:50 PM ET

Chet's avatar

clutching and grabbing is def. back. i hate seeing it because it’s boring, and because it evens the playing field allowing teams less skilled than the wings to employ this style to win. last night’s shitsack of a game proves this point (det’s fishdick PP aside). hal gill wouldn’t even be IN the league still, much less sought after by so-called contenders, if the game was called as it was in 2006-07. this is NOT the NHL i want to watch.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 03/11/12 at 11:03 PM ET

cigar_nurse's avatar

Very good post George. Yes. it’s looking like 1995 all over again with all the obstructing being allowed.

I have a suggestion with regards to a helmet . It needs to be soft on the outside in order to absorb the energy of the initial contact. I believe it would prevent the lateral or opposite side of the brain injuries.

I think the thing to do with suspended players is to not allow a team to fill the suspended player’s roster spot. Make the team suffer the consequences along with the player and you will see the play become cleaner.
I don’t believe a bigger ice surface will help because the majority of the collisions happen with the puck within a couple of feet of the incident.

Posted by cigar_nurse from On The mend for next season Greenville Pylons on 03/11/12 at 11:50 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I do think helmets need to be redesigned to help more meaningfully cushion that initial impact, and that’s going to take a revolution of sorts…

But to me, while I know that things like bigger ice, fewer players on it, or in more realistic terms, Brendan Shanahan calling the kinds of suspensions he was empowered to impose upon players at the beginning of the season might help the cause…

But I think the answer is as much cultural as it is based upon things like softer elbow and shoulder pads while understanding that we more or less have to ride out a difficult period over the next 5-7years as the science of diagnosing and treating concussions moves from being able to diagnose them to being able to do more to actually treat them, I think there’s something to be said for something I learned when I was a teenager, and an incredibly dirty street hockey player who was banished to the goal at that:

When I learned how to check my friends, I learned that the most dangerous thing you can do is to separate them from the puck, not deliver that vicious hit that you could leavy upon them, and say, “I could have really smoked you.”

Less anecdotally, any collision in hockey is supposed to separate players from the puck. and the art of administrating a check that leaves your opponents sore and wary of going into the corners with you has nothing to do with continuing to drive your body into your opponent until you “Kronwall” him in the head. There’s also some courage in doing what Kronwall apparently did to, I believe it was a Blackhawk, in saying, “Heads up!” as you come in to check them, nor just plain old stop that dramatic body contact once you’ve eliminated your opponent from battling for the puck, or even to let up on a check significantly if a bump and twist will get you what you desire. while, again, ensuring that you intimidate your opponent a wee bit, which is a part oof checking.

Players have been raised and trained to “finish” their check no matter what, and to “finish” their opponents fully and completely whenever they initiate body contact (I think the discussion as to whether a player who issues a vicious check should expect to immediately fight as a result is a discussion for another day), and in the process, we’ve lost the whole point of what body contact is supposed to achieve. It’s about separating the player from the puck, and the game can remain just as vicious with a little less blatant brutality if the mandate is placed upon the players as well as the GM’s, Shanahan, the Board of Governors and the referees to “make the game safer”—and it doesn’t take respecting your opponent, quite frankly, to change one’s mentality when it comes to understanding that your checks are not intended to leave your opponent concussed when they’re going back to the bench crying for their mommies. That fine line has to be reintroduced by coaches and players themselves, and there’s something to be said for the intimidation of knowing when to fold a player in half and knowing when to bump him, steal the puck and point out that you could have smeared him into next month as you skate away.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 03/12/12 at 12:22 AM ET

Joe Z.'s avatar

i didn’t subscribe to nhl.com this year because the game is turning to a complete joke. no puck control, just running, checking and dumping in the puck. One out of 10 goals is actually a hockey goal, the rest is rubbish by accident.  see the blues, yeah they are successfull but as attractive as a crack junkie.

Posted by Joe Z. from Austria on 03/12/12 at 07:36 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.