When it comes to predatory and dangerous plays in the NHL, Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is so close to the bottom of the watch list he might not even crack it.
But you wouldn’t be able to tell that based upon how the league ruled on the player for his high hit on Dan Girardi in the Bruins 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night.
Pastrnak was suspended by the league two games for the hit, in which came streaking across the neutral zone on a 50-50 loose puck situation in the open ice, laying the hit on the Rangers defenseman in which he came up high, making contact with the head of Girardi. One of Pastrnak’s skates left the ice as he made contact.
That Girardi returned to the game after he was slow getting up and had to leave the game didn’t matter. That Pastrnak was a skill guy with no prior history – not even a parking ticket – on his record, didn’t matter.
What mattered was the hit was avoidable in the eyes of the league, and there was contact made to the head. The NHL will not stand for such incidents. The line has been drawn, multiple times. Pastrnak is the latest to learn the hard way.
The approach to head injuries are one of the major issues on the sports landscape (did you hear?). The best approach, of course, to head injuries is to prevent them. Real easy stuff until to realize the nature of sports like hockey, football, and soccer – just to name three sports – much of the play is conducive to head injuries and concussions.
So you have to change the culture. The league is doing that. USA Hockey is doing that. The NCAA and CHL are doing that. It’s a sport-wide effort, from the grassroots to the top of the sport.
The staggering spike in concussions reached a head about five years ago, a problem highlighted by Sidney Crosby having nearly three years of what will be a Hall of Fame career derailed by a concussion. In the summer of 2011, former NHLers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien died – Boogaard a drug overdose, the latter two suicide – concussions believed to be the root cause of the premature deaths of the three.
It was clear something needed to be done. The game’s fast pace, the size of the players, and oversized pads can make the game a magnet for head injuries. And of course it’s impossible to completely wipe the sport clean of concussions. They will happen. But they can be reduced. And that’s what the league has worked to do, and unlike some other leagues, has been open, honest, and transparent that it’s a problem, that it needs to be addressed, and it will be their crusade.
According to the supplementary discipline tracker Sportsnet puts out, there were 39 suspensions and 26 fines handed down from the NHL last season, costing players an aggregate 176 games and $2.74 million. That was up from the 27 suspensions, 81 games lost, and $1.388 taken out of the pockets of players a year earlier.
Already this season there have been five suspensions that have cost players 14 games, according to Spotrac.
Two years ago, Mark Spector wrote an interesting piece examining the changes made in player safety in past years. The piece put the new emphasis put on changing the game – not so much taking out the physical play, just the unnecessary ones. The game has flourished as a result.
Is David Pastrnak a dirty player? No. Was it a dirty, dangerous, predatory hit? No. Was David Pastrnak targeting the head of Dan Girardi? Not likely. Was Girardi seriously hurt? No.
What matters is the result. Contact was made to the head, the hit could’ve been avoided. That’s what matters to the league.
And when it comes to hits targeting the head, the NHL has no tolerance for it.