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Editorial: Players like Connor Bedard are critical to hockey’s future. Don’t they deserve some protection?

It wasn’t just Chicago Blackhawks fans who were distraught when news broke that rookie phenom Connor Bedard had broken his jaw. It was a blow to hockey fans everywhere.

Bedard, just 18 years old with skills that amaze even Wayne Gretzky, was checked hard last Friday just after crossing the blue line against the New Jersey Devils on a power play. He left the game and now is on injured reserve. He’ll be out four to six weeks.

In the tough-guy hockey world, a perusal of reactions on TV and in print turned up strikingly few opinions that the hit by New Jersey defenseman Brendan Smith was out of line. Most tended to place more of the responsibility on Bedard for failing to better protect himself as he was skating into the attacking zone.

That may be the way purist hockey fans like it. But one reason the sport isn’t as popular as football or basketball is that its superstars bear essentially the same injury risk as everyone else on the rink. The National Football League considered the spate of quarterback injuries some years ago and installed rules severely restricting hits on QBs. There were old-school football fans at the time who decried the changes, but few argue now with doing the utmost to keep marquee names like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen on the field.

Perhaps it’s simply the nature of hockey that rules changes or other steps to give Bedard and other superstars a better chance of avoiding injury — at least due to hits delivered by opposition players — just aren’t possible, or will change the essentials of the game too much.

But as is true of football and basketball, thrillingly talented players are critical to hockey’s future. And there is no brighter, more exciting star right now than Connor Bedard.

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