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GMs Will Look for Ways to Make the Game Safer
Concussions and the symptoms that follow have been the top priorities when the NHL's general managers meet with each other at their annual meeting in warm and sunny Florida. Two years ago, that issue had reached headline proportion when a Pittsburgh Penguins stooge named Matt Cooke had taken a devastating run at Boston's Marc Savard and sidelined him with a blindside hit that resulted in a brutal concussion.
Savard has never been the same since and his career is almost certainly over. Cooke supposedly has seen the light and will never deliver another head shot as long as he remains on the ice. At least that's his story.
The general managers in the NHL are the chief opinion makers in the league. They discuss all issues and head injuries remain at the forefront. There is growing sentiment that the high-speed, hard-hitting game of hockey lends itself to concussions and head injuries by its very nature. However, there are still things the league's management can do to make the game safer.
One of the subjects that will be debated is the red line. When the NHL was in the midst of a work stoppage in 2004-05 that wiped out the season, the powers that be decided to remove the red line when the game returned. That may be news to anyone who attends a game in person or watches one on television because there is a bold red line physically painted on the ice.
However, the rules that prevented one player from making a pass that crossed two lines to a teammate were voided. The linesmen were told not to consider the red line in the case of a "two-line pass" because it was thought that it would open up the game and lead to more breakaways, scoring opportunities and goals. Commissioner Gary Bettman thought more goals would make the game more exciting to fans and bring in more people to the sport.
It hasn't worked out that way because coaches are too sharp and have been able to figure out strategies to prevent those breakaways from happening with greater frequency. It has also been determined that by having players speed around in the neutral ice area they are more vulnerable for hits to the upper body that lead to concussions.
So the GMs will consider reinstating the red line to slow the game down in the center-ice area and limit those upper-body shots further. Since there didn't seem to be the plethora of head injuries in the days before the red line was removed that there is presently, the idea seems to make sense.
Another idea that will be discussed is the removal of the trapezoid behind the net. The trapezoid is an area in the corners of the ice that goaltenders are not permitted to skate into and play the puck. The idea was that defensemen would have to play the puck and they might cough it up, leading to more scoring opportunities. However, players who chase after the puck in the corners are moving at high speed and are often vulnerable to big hits from behind that result in injuries. By allowing goalies to skate into those areas and start a breakout play, those hits would not be made as frequently.
It was a bad idea from the start. Goalies should be able to play the puck if they are confident enough skaters to leave their net and head for the corners
Both of these actions would make the game safer.
That's important for a sport that has seen Sidney Crosby, its best player, miss almost 1 3/4 seasons of action.
While hockey will never be completely safe, it does need to be made safer.
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