NHL’s Hypocrisy on ‘Player Safety’

Posted November 3, 2013

Just imagine if Holtby had been injured when Ray Emery came to assault him. (Caps Outsider)

So….the NHL chose not to suspend Ray Emery for his attack on Braden Holtby during the Caps-Flyers game Friday night. Really. As a hockey enthusiast, a sports reporter, and a dedicated hockey mom, I find this truly disheartening and, frankly, inexcusable. NHL.com published this on Saturday:

“But Emery did not face even a disciplinary hearing with NHL senior vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan because rules 46.2 and 46.17 limit punishments for instigators. Rule 46.2 covers the punishment he received during the game and 46.17 states that a player “deemed to be the aggressor” for the third time in a season gets a two-game suspension. Apart from that, there is nothing that can be pointed to for supplemental discipline.”

Instigating? Is that all they’re worried about? What about the fact that Holtby was subjected to repeated blunt force trauma to the head while the referee was only worried about keeping other players away to allow the blatant assault to continue? Instigating is the very least of the multiple infractions that need to be addressed.

Obviously, the rulebook needs to be revisited, and perhaps Brendan Shanahan needs to be replaced for not insisting on a meeting with Emery. The NHL needs to take a page out of the NFL rulebook that has imposed harsher penalties for actions that could result in serious physical harm. Redskin’s free safety, Brandon Meriweather, was originally suspended for two games after launching himself at an opposing player resulting in head-to-head contact not once, but twice in a recent game. That suspension was later reduced to one game, but still a suspension and money out of Meriweather’s pocket. That’s the way it should be. Meriweather’s actions, however wrong, were the result of a split second, in-the-heat-of-the-moment decision. Emery’s actions were totally premeditated. He had plenty of “count to ten” time to reconsider. There is no excuse for Emery, and there should be no rule to negate or minimize the severity of his actions.

At the Caps Convention in September, I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion on youth hockey and injury protection moderated by former Cap and CSN announcer, Craig Laughlin. The panel consisted of doctors from INOVA hospitals and former NHL player, Paul Mulvey. The theme was safety, and they reviewed the accidental injuries that could occur in the game of hockey, and emphasized the importance of wearing and maintaining the proper equipment. Mulvey and Laughlin also sang the praises of the sport and recalled their fond memories of a game they obviously love. USA Hockey Magazine has also published multiple articles recently on recognizing and preventing concussions, and making the sport safe for youth and adults. So, it seems that the NHL is trying to promote safety, but how many impressionable youth hockey players sat and watched an unwilling athlete being brutally assaulted on live TV last Friday? Millions. Was Holtby safe? Is this the image the NHL wants to convey? Fighting has always been a big part of the game, but this went way beyond a hockey fight. The rules must be changed.

For now, we should all be grateful that, Holtby, a young hockey player and father with his whole career ahead of him, is fine and ready to play in his next game. If the rules don’t change, next time some young man with a promising future might not be so lucky.

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