Yet another NHL player has been seriously hurt because Gary Bettman insists on fighting a losing game.
Carolina Hurricanes rookie Andrei Svechnikov is in the concussion protocol and likely to miss Game 4 of the playoffs Thursday night, an outcome just about anybody could have predicted after watching him get decked by Alex Ovechkin. Svechnikov’s head slammed against the ice after the fight in the first period Monday night, and he spent about 30 seconds on all fours before being helped to his feet and wobbling to the locker room.
“(He) looks normal and said he feels great,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said Tuesday.
Of course Svechnikov did. What else is a 19-year-old supposed to say when Bettman has made it clear he doesn’t give a damn about his players’ health and safety?
Time and again, the NHL commissioner has refused to acknowledge hockey’s culpability in robbing former players of their memories and motor skills, making them unrecognizable to their families and friends in the most severe cases. This despite the ever-growing body of science linking repetitive head trauma to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Bettman’s stock, belligerent answer is to say there’s no way to know for sure that repetitive head trauma – you know, like what hockey players experience – causes CTE because there’s still no living diagnosis. Therefore, the NHL doesn’t need to do anything or make any changes.
Like banning fighting.
There’s no reason for what the NHL still quaintly terms “fisticuffs” and everybody, even Bettman, knows it. It’s a relic of a by-gone, brutish era when people didn’t know better, and adds no value to the modern game.
“Not really,” Brind’Amour said Tuesday when asked if fighting was still necessary to the NHL. “Probably not.”
Fighting doesn’t make the NHL better, slowing the free flow of the game and disrupting the pace. That’s evident during every Olympics and world championships, where fighting is banned under International Ice Hockey Federation rules and no one complains of missing it.
It also doesn’t make the game safer, as Bettman has claimed before. Not when hockey now is so much faster, and the players so much bigger.
Who could have watched Ovechkin continuing to pummel Svechnikov as the younger and smaller player fell, and thought that was a good way to settle an on-ice dispute? Or an effective deterrent against future dust-ups?
It wasn’t, and it won’t be. It’s an MMA-like sideshow, and a poor one at that.
“Let’s forget about the semantics & weight/height differences & who asked who…. Do we want to see NHL stars like Ovechkin & Svechnikov bare knuckle boxing?” Daniel Carcillo, whose effectiveness as an enforcer earned him the nickname “CarBomb” but who is now a fierce critic of the NHL’s approach to head trauma, said on Twitter.
“If the #NHL was conceived today, would it include fighting? Doubt it.”
Contrary to Bettman’s obstinance, hockey has always recognized that hits to the head are dangerous. That’s why there are penalties for high sticking and elbowing.
Banning fighting is simply the logical extension of that, Hall of Famer Ken Dryden told the New York Times last year following the publication of his book, Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey.
“What we’ve come to understand better, with the force and the frequency of the collisions now, is that the dangerous instrument is not the stick or the elbow, it’s the body as a whole. So you don’t call a penalty for a stick or an elbow and not call one for a shoulder or a fist,” Dryden said.
“It’s not the cause, it’s the effect,” Dryden added. “It’s not whether it’s intentional or accidental. The brain doesn’t distinguish. The brain is affected similarly.”
It won’t help Svechnikov or Montreal’s Paul Byron or any of the countless other players who’ve been injured for no good reason, but fighting’s days in the NHL are numbered.
Last week, researchers at Boston University’s CTE Center announced that brain scans of a small group of living NFL players had shown elevated levels of tau proteins, which cause CTE, in the areas where CTE has typically been found during autopsies. That follows the announcement in 2017 by researchers at UCLA and NorthShore University Health System that an autopsy had confirmed a former NFL player had CTE – just as a brain scan four years earlier had indicated.
Even Bettman won’t be able to deny the science for much longer. The NHL’s fight will be over, and he will have lost.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.