Rangers

Hartnett: For Starters, NHL Should Hand Out 10-Game Bans For Headshots

As Long As Penalties Remain Non-Deterrent, Players Will Continue To Get Hurt
Ottawa's Chris Neil is attended to by a trainer after being hit into the boards hard on a check against the Boston Bruins, at Scotiabank Place, on March 11, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

Ottawa’s Chris Neil is attended to by a trainer after being hit into the boards hard on a check against the Boston Bruins, at Scotiabank Place, on March 11, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

During the first period of Tuesday night’s lopsided 9-2 defeat to the Sharks in San Jose, Rangers winger Rick Nash suffered a head injury when Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart extended his body to line up his shoulder, making Nash’s head the principle point of contact.

Nash went on to take seven more shifts before the first intermission. He did not return for the final two periods.

When Nash met with reporters after the game, he revealed that he was experiencing worsening headache symptoms.

“I have a headache,” Nash said. “It got worse. It was a headshot. I’m concerned the way it feels. You’re concerned anytime there’s a headshot.”

On Wednesday, the NHL handed down a three-game suspension to Stuart without pay, fining him a sum of $55,384.62.

The league deemed the hit to be an “illegal check to the head.” When NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan explained league’s discipline via an official league video, he pointed out that Stuart did “many of the things our department asks” when approaching the check and he “did not charge,” “delivers the hit well within in the allowable timeframe” and “does not extend his elbow and forearm.”

Shanahan pointed out that Stuart “who is two inches shorter than Nash, unnecessarily extends the left side of his body upward – specifically his left shoulder in a way that makes Nash’s head the main point of contact, causing an injury.”

The Rangers sent Nash back to New York on Thursday. He will not play in upcoming road games in Anaheim and St. Louis.

On Feb. 12, 2013, Nash’s face was plastered into the glass along the endboards at TD Garden by forward Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins. The injury triggered a concussion that caused Nash to miss four games.

What we do know is that with every concussion, the symptoms commonly worsen.

There is much that still we do not understand about concussions. Sometimes concussion symptoms do not appear right away and players continue to play on while unaware of future side affects. That might have happened in Nash’s case in February, as he played the next two games against the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals after Lucic’s hit, then missed four games due to concussion symptoms before returning on Feb. 28 to face the Lightning at Madison Square Garden.

There have also been instances when players played for weeks or months after an incident before symptoms appear.

There was once a time when teams turned a blind eye toward concussions and dangerously sent their players back into the fray. Today, team medical staffs have gotten smarter and are able to detect concussions. Still, it isn’t a perfect science even with all the medical advances and technology put into the capable hands of medical professionals.

TIME FOR THE NHL TO GET SERIOUS

While medical science has progressed, true progress has yet to be made by the league regarding headshots. Players are still targeting the heads of fellow professionals, and are only receiving small bans for their actions. A strong enough deterrent isn’t in place to stop players from targeting the heads of some of the league’s brightest stars.

There isn’t an adequate level of consistency. A contentious issue is whether an injury should be taken into account when the league determines its discipline on a headshot.

Especially in the case of Nash, who either did not feel the affects of a concussion, or tried to play through the injury before deciding to sit out and miss a handful of games.

It’s time that the league institutes a lengthy uniform suspension for all incidents in which it is determined that a player targeted the head of another player. Ten-game bans sounds like a fair deterrent to offenders. On top of that, the league could tack on additional games on top of the suspension should it be deemed necessary. That way, a player who willingly targets the head of another player knows the absolute minimum number of games he would cost himself and his team when he decides to go against the ethics of the game.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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