Update: Kostopolous suspended six games. From Colin Campbell's statement: “Kostopoulos delivered a blow to the head of an unsuspecting and vulnerable player. As well, he targeted the head of his opponent and, while the hit was not from the blindside, the head was the principle point of contact. The fact that Brad Stuart was not in possession of the puck when the blow was delivered and the serious nature of the player’s injury were also considered in my decision.”
If you haven't seen it already, Calgary Flames forward Tom Kostopolous destroyed Detroit Red Wings defenceman Brad Stuart with a shoulder to the jaw. The hit broke Stuart's jaw, and while there's nothing official yet, I can't see how this doesn't also give Stuart a concussion. Many fans may not remember that Stuart had the first major concussion of his career years ago when he was with the San Jose Sharks. That hit was a sucker punch by Jody Shelley (who, ironically, later became an enforcer for the Sharks), and those of us in San Jose could easily see that Stuart was never the same after that concussion.
Here's the video of the Kostopolous hit on Stuart.
Remember, the Blindside Hit rule (AKA the David Booth/Marc Savard rule) references "a lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact." Judging by that criteria, I don't see how you could call this a blindside hit. Kostopolous isn't moving laterally to Stuart; if Stuart's center is zero degrees, then Kostopolous is coming in at maybe 60 degrees, not a hard 90.
It's still a very obvious hit to the head, though. And what makes matters worse is that after Kostopolous connects with Stuart, he follows through on his hit high. I feel like each time one of these hits happen, I wind up repeating the following fact: young hockey players are taught to compress their body in before a check, then target the opponent's low chest area, then push through diagonally up. It's all about center of balance, not decapitation, because you're trying to knock the guy off the puck rather than, you know, freakin' kill him.
I hope that Colin Campbell does the right thing and give Kostopolous a worthy suspension; considering Joe Thornton's blindside "short guy runs into tall guy" hit on David Perron got two games, I hope this is five or six at the very least.
But the suspension handed down by the NHL is beside the point. If the NHLPA's goal is really to take care of its constituents, then they must take this video and hammer the point home: you must respect your opponent because he is A) your NHLPA brother and B) a human being with a life after hockey. But I'm guessing they won't.The PA is under enough duress with the upcoming CBA negotiations and the transition to Donald Fehr's leadership. And even still, it really feels like on-ice safety has never been a primary concern of the PA's. If so, the PA as a whole would have the foresight to understand that visors could be grandfathered in to promote better protection of player's eyes. The PA, especially under Bob Goodenow, seemed hell-bent on squeezing as much money out of the league's owners as possible and trying to break the NHL's leadership.
Player safety should be at the foremost of both the league's concern and the PA's concern. However, the true power to change hits to the head comes from the PA. It's all about education and repetition; educate the players on potential lifelong effects of concussions and repeat the mantra "Respect your opponent" until its as natural as a Canadian saying, "Eh?"
When guys like Keith Primeau, Mike Richter, and Jeff Beukeboom speak out about severity of post-concussion syndrome and how some of it doesn't go away after years, you'd think the players would sit up and listen. These are well-respected players who've played with the current generation of players and the current era of medicine. They know what they're talking about. And yet, we don't hear a word from the PA about having someone like Primeau be hired out to talk with each team about concussions and dangers of hits to the head.
Concussions don't just change careers, they change lives. Savard spoke out about how he dealt with everything from depression to dizziness to fatigue following the Matt Cooke hit. Peter Mueller has been out since the tail end of last season. Paul Kariya only missed a handful of games last year and played down the stretch, and yet he opted to sit out this season due to post-concussion syndrome, most likely from the cumulative effects of multiple concussions over his career.
Now that the NHLPA has leadership in place, maybe it will finally do the right thing and take a hard stance on promoting a culture shift within its constituents. It is possible to re-train hockey players; just look at how many hooking infractions happened post-lockout, and now players are aware that if the stick goes horizontal, they'll probably be called. It took a few years, but the awareness gradually became instilled in them. This can happen the same way, but no amount of coaching or penalizing or suspending will create this change. It has to happen from within.
Too many careers have been cut short by reckless, selfish, and careless hits to the head. When will the NHLPA draw the line?