NHL's decisive action on head hits? Strongly worded memo

It almost reads like a headline from The Onion, doesn't it?

But rather than take the draconian road with a ban on hits to the head or other legislative measures, the NHL has decided to issue a stern warning to its players about the number of controversial head shots this season. With a letter posted in the locker room.

From a memo obtained by TSN: 

"Recently, we have had two (2) supplemental discipline incidents involving direct elbow blows to the head.  This is a play that we have been trying to remove from our game for a number of years.  In one case there was no injury and in the other incident the elbowed Player received a concussion.  Both Players delivering the elbows had never before been involved in supplemental discipline. 

"We cannot and will not tolerate blows to the head that are deliberate, avoidable and illegal.  Furthermore, both the history and status of the offender (first time versus repeat) and the nature of the injury caused (if any) will be taken into consideration as they have been in the past.  The length of suspensions for illegal blows to the head will be increased if these incidents persist across the League.  Taking steps to maintain the safest on-ice environment possible for the Players remains our most important priority."

Once again, we see how bafflingly inept the supplemental discipline system is for the NHL. Should the injury that did or did not occur, or the rap sheet of the offender, have anything to do with the swift, harsh punishment that should fall on an offending party if the NHL is truly trying to rid its product of these illegal hits?

We all remember the recent Chris Pronger hit on Pavel Datsyuk. Right there you have a play that didn't result in an injury but a hit that was delivered by one of the League's most notorious repeat offenders.

But what about this hit from Alexei Kovalev of the Montreal Canadiens on Simon Gagne of the Philadelphia Flyers from this weekend?

After the game, Gagne was enraged:

Gagne said after tonight's game he believes Kovalev targeted his head and should have been penalized on the hit, which opened up cuts on his chin and cheek.

"If you look at it, the puck's not even there," Gagne said. "Is he coming to take the puck away from me? I don't think so. I think he's coming to hurt me. I got some marks on my face, so you can tell the hit was to the head."

Why did Kovalev escape without a penalty? "I don't know if it's because we are the Flyers," Gagne said. "I don't want to start anything, but if it was us doing a hit like that, then it definitely would have been at least two minutes."

"It was sneaky. It was senseless. He wasn't going for a puck. He wasn't trying to prevent a scoring chance. It was senseless." You know who said that about Kovalev?

Brian Burke. In 1993. 

That's when the then-NHL senior VP suspended Kovalev five games for injuring Dale Hunter on a tripping play.

On this Gagne hit, we have a player who has suffered through concussions and a player hitting him in the head that has a rap sheet stretching back 15 years; and potentially hitting him with the intent to injure.

So of course there won't be a suspension ...

Look, we're no fans of this absurd system of justice, that's arbitrary to the point of parody. It's a system too easily manipulated by the media, and one that appears unable to hand out suspensions with any semblance of uniformity or consistency.

But it's completely unacceptable, given the discipline parameters established by the League, to think that both the Pronger hit and the Kovalev hit were not penalized during the game; yet had either of their targets been injured, both players would have probably been suspended.

How does that clean up the League?

As the memo quoted above claims: "Taking steps to maintain the safest on-ice environment possible for the Players remains our most important priority."

Shouldn't the first step be getting rid of the dangerous plays that can potentially lead to these serious injuries? Or is this "priority" reserved only for those with blood on their hands?

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