The NHL's decision to modify the words of a rule regarding head shots wasn't something that happened overnight. It's taken a few years and countless horrifying hits. Just ask Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton and Sidney Crosby, to name a few.
Hockey fans have been treated to some bad hits over the past few years, and each one of those hits has pushed the league further into changing the rules regarding head shots.
All of those players have been victims of head shots or dangerous, blindside hits — something that it took the league years to guard against. Bruins fans know this problem best. Of all the players victimized by severe head shots, the Bruins have probably been victimized the most.
For Bruins fans, the issue really started when Randy Jones laid a vicious hit on Bergeron. Jones wasn't suspended, but Bergeron suffered a grade three concussion and missed the rest of the 2007-08 season.
It got worse for the Bruins, of course, when Matt Cooke took out Savard last year with a blatant head-hunting hit. The league didn't suspend Cooke, and the rest is pretty much bad history. Savard is still suffering effects from that hit, plus others, and might not play hockey again.
The issue culminated, especially for the Bruins, when Aaron Rome hit Horton in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. The league finally responded, after letting so many similar hits go unpunished, and suspended Rome for four games.
Along the way, these head shots racked up a large number of victims. David Steckel's hit on Crosby at the Winter Classic this year put the star forward out for the rest of the season. Mike Richards took out David Booth last year and hurt Buffalo's Tim Connolly with a blindside hit into the boards this posteason.
The NHL started making some disciplinary strides regarding head shots when it finally suspended Cooke for his hit on Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Boston's own Daniel Paille added his name to the list when the NHL suspended him four games for his hit on Raymond Sawada.
Of all of those brutal hits over the past few years, there's no doubt that Rome's hit on Horton was probably the biggest catalyst. With so many people watching the Stanley Cup Final, including those who aren't normal hockey fans and haven't witnessed some of those horrible hits, the NHL didn't have much choice other than to suspend Rome. Hits to the head are near the forefront of discussion in sports today, and the NHL would not have helped its case in terms of PR had it had let Rome get off without a punishment.
In case you're wondering how much improvement the league has made in terms of outlawing bad hits, look at a highlight reel of pre-lockout hits. Remember Scott Stevens' hit on Eric Lindros? The hit ultimately ended Lindros' career, but it was perfectly legal when it happened.
The league still has improvements to make — as is evident by the league's failure to suspend Richards for his on Connolly, among others. They may not — and will never be — fun to watch, but some of these brutal hits gave the league a disciplinary wake-up call.
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