Yes, you read the title correctly. No helmets? Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, no more ridiculous than people in the NHL speaking out that there needs to be stricter hits-to-the-head penalties, an argument sparked by the furor surrounding the concussion sustained by Sidney Crosby after he was hit by David Steckel, which the leagued deemed to be incidental contact.
This has been a major issue in recent years, as concussions and players headhunting were always around, but never thrown into the spotlight as they have been. It seems every year, more and more players go down with injuries and more and more players are being suspended for head shots. What’s funny about all this is, there seemed to only be a spike in concussions and suspensions after the rules were made more strict. I suppose the instigator rule being in effect has a large part of that, as players sometimes feel it is their duty to get a player back in-game and settle for a cheap shot that sometimes causes severe injury.
Pierre Lebrun at ESPN is suggesting that the league should amend rule 48 and make it more broad, thus making it easier for a hit to be penalized, and would hopefully cause players to be more careful and less head injuries would be a result. But there is a problem with this, as Lebrun notes, because hitting is a major part of hockey—it embodies what the sport is all about—hard work, grit, and determination. But if there are now more penalties, wouldn’t that remove hitting from the game all together as players will not bother risking throwing a check? And if no players are hitting, how boring and watered down will the sport become? The game is already a shell of itself, when it reached the height of its popularity in the mid-1990’s, but even so, hitting (and fighting) is what makes this sport special.
My suggestion is, get rid of the helmets. For what, seventy years, people played hockey without helmets and there were dramatically less head injuries during this time. Why? Because there was a code of conduct amongst the players. The game was even nastier back then than it is today, but because no one was wearing a helmet, no one was checked head first into the boards or hit with a blindside elbow. After all, if a player’s head is unprotected, why would he hurt someone else whose head is in the same predicament as his? You think this would be the same as every player is wearing a helmet as opposed to no one wearing a helmet, but as many injuries as helmets do prevent, they are a false sense of security. If someone has their back to you, and they are facing the boards and you check them, if they are wearing a helmet you may feel it is no big deal—the helmet will save them. But if that player is not wearing a helmet, you’re not going to throw that check because maybe later on in the game, when you’re that player facing the boards, someone might nail you.
Hockey was a different animal back then. Gordie Howe, one of the toughest players the sport will ever know, played 1767 games in the NHL and an additional 419 in the WHA. He checked, he fought, he scored goals, all without a helmet, and all without one head injury. How about Craig MacTavish? A player so tough that when the rule came in making it mandatory that players must wear helmets, he chose to still go without one, having been grandfathered in. He would play until 1997 and a total of 1093 games, and you guessed it, he never suffered a concussion.
It is not likely, well, damn near impossible that the NHL would ever do something like this because people would think it’s barbaric. But if you put every player on the ice without a helmet I would almost guarantee the amount of concussions caused by hits to the head would be cut in half, if not even drop more than that. I just wanted to put this all into perspective for you, and hope that one day players will regain this code of conduct and have a mutual respect for one another