By Ken Reed

When it comes to goonery, the NHL has come a long ways from the ’60’s and 70’s, when being a goon who was good at cheap shots and fighting was a full-time job.

Today, there are a lot fewer true goons and the NHL polices fighting and cheap shots much better than they did decades ago. But the league can go a lot further in cleaning up the game, especially given what we know about the dangers of brain trauma, concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

NHL hockey is definitely a physical game, as it is in college and the Olympics. The difference is the NCAA and Olympics don’t tolerate goonery. The NHL in many respects remains in the Stone Age in believing that without fighting they would lose fans. I think the reality is just the opposite. Ban the nonsense, penalize it severely and the NHL would become a more popular mainstream sport.

As Mark Lazerus recently wrote in The Athletic:

“Give the [NHL] Department of Player Safety some teeth and a new, clearer mission. Ban head shots, no exceptions. Suspend players for dirty hits regardless of intent, regardless of whether it causes an injury. If players know there will be consequences for their actions on the ice, the dangerous plays will disappear and the borderline plays will eventually fade away.”

It doesn’t get any more intense than the NHL playoffs and, for the most part, the playoffs show that guys can control their fighting and cheap shot instincts if it is best for the team. With more severe penalties for goonery the sport would become even cleaner, especially during the regular season.

The skill level of NHL players is at an all-time high. The game is fast, physical and exciting. Hockey athletes make amazing plays. The team-first mentality in the NHL is commendable, as is the sportsmanship shown in the handshake lines after tough battles. The Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in sports, and the traditions around it (e.g., each player getting his name on the trophy; each player getting to take it to their hometowns, or wherever, for a day) are very cool.

The NHL still trails the NBA significantly in overall popularity, but if they would put a greater emphasis on player safety and cleaning up the sport that gap would definitely close, and the result would be a better game for all hockey stakeholders, including the players.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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