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Vulgar Opinions: The Rinaldo Suspension Is Decent In A Vacuum

04/07/14

Four games is a lot for a guy whose thought process (I’m pretty sure) was this:

I’m gonna wreck this guy.

I might make head contact.

Oh well.

I don’t think Rinaldo was targeting Ruhwedel’s head.  I think he had “crush Ruhwedel” locked into his infant brain and wasn’t too concerned with the particulars.  It’s not dirty despite the unfortunate result, it’s being apathetic as to the results of reckless behavior.  To push a metaphor, Rinaldo isn’t an attempted murderer, he’s a drunk driver that ran someone over.

The problem with how the NHL handles discipline is that they want to get rid of the murderers, but they don’t care very much about the drunk drivers.  That is to say that reckless play goes largely unpunished, at least unless you get a charming visual like Lars Eller bleeding on the ice or the country’s best active goaltender sitting helmetless and concussed.  Most injuries don’t come out of a desire to injure, they come out of an apathy over whether an injury occurs and the resulting refusal to alter one’s play.  Unfortunately the NHL’s system of discipline doesn’t work to address this.  If it did, it wouldn’t give Carte blanche to risky behavior with devastating consequences and only punish when said consequences occur, it would nip it in the bud and ban the behavior that stands a serious chance of maiming someone to begin with.

The Rinaldo suspension is good in a vacuum because it’s a moderately significant punishment for a hit that probably didn’t have much ill intent.  It’s bad in reality because similar things are going to happen a dozen times on any given night and will largely go unpunished because the consequences aren’t as sever, because they don’t occur on national television, because they don’t look that bad, or because the NHL just doesn’t feel like it at that point in time.  Again, most NHL injuries come, not from dirty play, but from accidents that result from reckless play.  Until the NHL starts suspending for these accidents, it’s never going to gain any ground on dealing with head injuries.

The two worst areas for injuries are the head and neck area (any by extension, the spine), and the knees.  The NHL should assign a major for any primary contact that occurs below the victim’s hips or above their shoulders.  The NHL should assign a major for all boarding calls.  If the NHL does that, I doubt many players will risk even a small chance of nailing a guy in the head or the knees.

But most of all, the NHL should stop worrying about 1). being too harsh on the perpetrator and 2). removing the physicality from the league.  These are competitive athletes, the physicality will be there even if you ban checking altogether (just watch any USA – Canada women’s game where checking is illegal).  Additionally, these are fans that (for the most part) showed up to watch compelling hockey, not two idiots running into one another.  No NHL fan can name one legal iconic hit outside of Campbell – Umberger (might be illegal now), or Stevens – Kariya (would definitely be illegal now).  The hitting isn’t what makes this sport great.  It is occasionally what makes this sport a WWE-esque sideshow.  The NFL, for all of their faults, began to understand this when it extended significant protections to their quarterbacks.  The NHL needs to do the same with all it’s players or the sport is going to suffer.

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