Hall of Fame’s 2009 class takes on head shots issue

It was a festive morning at the Hockey Hall of Fame, where the class of 2009 gathered to receive their Hall of Fame rings, pose for pictures and tell some stories — from back in the day.

But a present NHL problem kept intruding on the reminiscing, and the questions for Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Lou Lamoriello kept coming back to player safety and hits to the head.

Yzerman, the Team Canada architect for the 2010 Olympics and a rising star in the Red Wings front office, was in favour of limiting head shots, enforcing the rules and handing out suspensions where warranted. But he also argued that good, hard, clean body checks have been getting confused for something else amid a head shot hysteria.

“Lately, there have been several clean, hard body checks that aren’t headshots, and guys have gotten injured and everyone wants to say, ‘That’s a headshot, that’s a headshot.’ A lot of these are clean body checks that aren’t headshots, and unfortunately the player got hurt,” Yzerman said. “Unfortunately, a player getting caught with his head down is a clean body check. And I don’t think there’s any way — it’s not a headshot when you get caught with your head down. It’s different when you get your elbow up, or have time to run a guy’s head into the glass.”

Robitaille, a sniper, not a fighter, said today’s players lack respect for one another. And that removing the instigator rule might be a way to deter the headhunters from flying at an opponent, if they had to then answer for it with their fists.

Hull, another sniper, said his trick for staying safe was always being aware of who was lined up against him. When he was dueling with Yzerman, it was a battle of skills. When a player such as former Red Wings grinder, Shawn Burr, was on the ice, Hull always took note.

“You always knew a guy like Burr was going to finish his checks,” he said.

What is not finished, however, is the debate over headshots. The image of Florida Panthers forward, David Booth, splayed out after an open ice collision with Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers is difficult to shake. And the blow that fractured OHL player Ben Fanelli’s skull, and led to a season-long suspension for Mike Liambas, of the Erie Otters, is still fresh.

The NHL general managers are in Toronto for meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. Head shots will be discussed, but do not expect any rash action from the NHL to curb what has been perceived in the media as an epidemic.

“We have to get totally away from what transpired and look at the number of games played, the number of minutes played — across the country — and make sure we don’t allow an isolated situation, which may be — three, four or five — to become now the focus, and change the game,” said Lamoriello, the longtime New Jersey Devils general manager.

“Yes, we have to look at things. But the common denominator is we have to do what is best for the game, and know that there will be injuries, no different than baseball, basketball and football. We are a contact sport.”



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