Score Strip

  1. League: NHL
  2. Pittsburgh vs. Columbus
    7:00 PM
    1 PIT
    4 CLS
  3. Anaheim vs. Dallas
    8:00 PM
    1 ANH
    4 DAL
  4. St. Louis vs. Chicago
    9:30 PM
    2 STL
    3 CHI
  5. View All

Use your head: When it comes to high hits in the NHL, the risk-reward isn't worth it

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo Sports

DETROIT — Let’s assume the worst, for the sake of argument. Let’s assume Brendan Shanahan has no idea what he’s doing as the NHL’s disciplinarian. Let’s assume he uses the old Wheel of Justice, only now it’s more sophisticated, with iPads and a TV studio.

View gallery

.

Justin Abdelkader hurt himself and the Wings with his two-game suspension for belting Toni Lydman. (AP)

Why go for a spin?

You know the NHL has been cracking down on hits to the head for three years now. If you still don’t know where the line is, if you still don’t think the penalties are consistent, if it all seems too nuanced and complicated, then make it simple:

Don’t put your fate in Shanahan’s hands.

Continue to play the physical hockey we love, but don’t try to obliterate your opponent. Stay low. Keep your skates on the ice. Keep your elbows in and shoulders down. Explode through the torso and separate the man from the puck.

And stay away from the freaking head.

Never mind not hurting your opponent. Don’t hurt yourself and your team.

Don’t spin the Wheel.

Had Justin Abdelkader done that Saturday night, he could have laid a hell of a lick on Toni Lydman. He could have knocked him on his butt and energized Joe Louis Arena the way he intended to do. Both guys could have played on.

[Related: Justin Abdelkader suspended two games for head shot on Toni Lydman]

Instead, seemingly jacked up and reckless, Abdelkader launched himself into Lydman and made significant contact with his head. Lydman left the game woozy, the start of concussion symptoms. Abdelkader received a five-minor major for charging and a game misconduct.

The Anaheim Ducks quickly capitalized with a power-play goal. A scoreless game unraveled into a 4-0 rout, and a tied playoff series turned into a 2-1 deficit for the Detroit Red Wings, who will have to battle back without one of their key players because Abdelkader received a two-game suspension.

“The risk-reward of trying to make that huge hit just isn’t there,” said Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey. “There’s no point.”

Quincey received a one-game suspension for charging last April. He said he hits less often now. He said even if you hit someone cleanly, the chances of not being suspended are “very slim.” We can argue that, but not this:

“There’s no Scott Stevens anymore,” he said.

He was asked if that was almost sad, even understanding the need for more player safety.

“The game has changed,” he said. “It is what it is. I don’t know if it’s sad.”

View gallery

.

The payoff for a huge hit isn't worth the risk of a huge suspension. (Getty)

It’s not sad at all. We know more about concussions and brain trauma than we did when Stevens was blowing up people, and we can still have hard-hitting hockey without turning it into a demolition derby.

What’s sad is when some of the most respected figures in the game lose perspective on the big picture – because they have to defend their guy, because they have to protect their team. Because, you know, it’s the Cup.

Here was Wings coach Mike Babcock talking about banning all hits to the head in February 2011:

“There’s lot of ways to crunch a guy without hitting him in the head,” he said then. “If you hit him in the head, you didn’t look after it. You had your hands up, or you put him in a bad spot, and I think you should be penalized for it – and that can be two minutes, and that can be five minutes and that can be suspended.

“These are good players. They want to play a long time. We have an obligation to protect them. I think shots to the head should be penalized and looked at all the time. That’s just my personal opinion.”

Babcock was asked about mitigating factors. Some players are taller than others. Some lower their heads when an opponent is about to deliver a hit. The game moves at split-second speed. Players naturally rise up when they hit, carried by momentum, bracing for impact.

He declined to get into specific scenarios, but he said: “I don’t think it’s difficult to judge. I don’t think it has anything to do with intent. Did you hit him in the head, or did you not hit him in the head? Isn’t that black and white?”

Now here was Wings coach Mike Babcock talking about Abdelkader on Sunday:

“I watched the hit again today,” he told reporters. “And, holy mackerel, I don’t know what you’re going to get suspended for.”

Holy mackerel.

It isn’t fair to single out Babcock. He is far from alone. This happens all the time all around the league.

[Also: Line brawl erupts between rival Habs and Sens]

But it’s got to stop, if not for player safety, then for self-interest. If coaches get on their players for taking undisciplined penalties, why would they not get on their players for throwing undisciplined hits? If players don’t want to go to the box, why do they risk going to the press box?

I think coaches and players would have greater incentive if the NHL gave the department of player safety a mandate for longer suspensions. But that’s another argument for another day, and aren’t suspensions of any length enough at this time of year?

View gallery

.

Eric Gryba's hit on Lars Eller might've been borderline, but optics were awful and it was another suspension.  …

Defend your guy in public. Abdelkader is not a dirty player and did not intend to concuss Lydman. But don’t defend the hit in public, and in private, make it clear that discipline is the best way to avoid supplemental discipline.

Shanahan and the department of player safety have been releasing videos for two seasons now – breaking down each suspension, showing examples of legal and illegal plays. The point is to be transparent, to educate and to change behavior.

The NHL should be accountable.

I wasn’t sure Ottawa Senators defenseman Eric Gryba deserved a two-game suspension for his hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller on Thursday, because I thought the principal point of contact was the chest, not the head, so it wasn’t an illegal check to the head.

I thought Abdelkader deserved to be suspended for charging, because he came from a distance and launched himself into Lydman, and I thought he could have been suspended on the basis of the illegal check to the head rule, too. It looked like Lydman’s head was targeted and the principal point of contact to me.

Agree. Disagree.

Fine.

[More: What We Learned: Why 'letting them play' is nonsense in the NHL]

But too often we watch only when it interests us. Too often we make comparisons to plays that we happen to remember or that happen to fit our argument. Too often we don’t know the spectrum of infractions or the best precedents or the actual wording of the rules. Too often we see what we want to see because of an agenda or an opinion or an emotion.

And too often we miss the point.

Shanahan and the department of player safety have to break down video like the Zapruder film because they have to get it right in their decision-making. We need to get it right, too, in our analysis. Every detail matters.

But say what you want about the NHL. There is a need to crack down on hits to the head. There is no conspiracy against your team. There is no Wheel. Shanahan and his colleagues go through a consistent process, try to be objective and try to produce consistent results.

If it gets to the point where we’re going frame by frame and splitting hairs and still can’t come to a consensus, the player in question took too much of a risk for his opponent, for himself and his team.

“I think when you’re going to hit a guy like that, the main thing nowadays is not to him in the head,” Quincey said.

So don’t. Don’t come close.

Stay low, and explode through the torso instead.

Look after it. Don’t let the NHL look after it.

"Even if you're targeting the shoulder, you've got to go lower," Abdelkader told reporters Monday. "Everything is under a microscope."

Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is great, but he's not the best ever
'Melo bullied in loss to Pacers | Voter defends Anthony MVP vote
Patriots owner Robert Kraft would welcome gay player
Traitor! Yankees' CC Sabathia wears Dodgers hat at NBA game

View Comments
  • Kvitova beaten in 1st major upset at Stuttgart

    Kvitova beaten in 1st major upset at Stuttgart

    STUTTGART, Germany (AP) -- Alisa Kleybanova defeated third-seeded Petra Kvitova 6-2, 7-6 (3) to provide the first major upset at the Porsche Grand Prix on Wednesday. … More »

    AP - Sports - 3 minutes 12 seconds ago
  • Emmert supports more efficient, effective NCAA

    Mark Emmert wants the NCAA to fast-track upgrades for college athletes - regardless of whether a player union is pushing for them. One day before the board of directors meets in Indianapolis and two days before Northwestern football players are … More »

    AP - Sports - 4 minutes 22 seconds ago
  • Seattle signs Trufant, CB expected to retire

    The Seattle Seahawks have signed former cornerback Marcus Trufant, who is expected to announce his retirement from football. Seattle announced the signing Wednesday and said Trufant was expected to announce his intentions during a news conference … More »

    AP - Sports - 5 minutes ago
  • Clemson's Swinney won't change after complaint

    CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday he wouldn't change procedures after the Freedom From Religion Foundation's letter of complaint to the university expressing concerns about the football program's connection to the … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 minutes ago
  • Knicks looking for hometown discount from Anthony

    Knicks looking for hometown discount from Anthony

    Potential free agent Carmelo Anthony will be asked to give the New York Knicks a discount on his next contract in order to help build a title contender, team president Phil Jackson said on Wednesday. Anthony, who finished the 2013-14 NBA season … More »

    Reuters - 11 minutes ago
  • NBA-Knicks looking for hometown discount from Anthony

    Potential free agent Carmelo Anthony will be asked to give the New York Knicks a discount on his next contract in order to help build a title contender, team president Phil Jackson said on Wednesday. Anthony, who finished the 2013-14 NBA season … More »

    Reuters - 15 minutes ago
  • Royals coach has surgery on broken left arm

    Kansas City Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz had surgery on his broken left arm, an injury he sustained when he was hit by a line drive during pregame batting practice. Kuntz had a plate and eight screws inserted during the operation Wednesday at … More »

    AP - Sports - 16 minutes ago
  • Rangers' Perez gets second straight SHO

    Rangers' Perez gets second straight SHO

    Martin Perez pitched his second consecutive shutout to extend his scoreless innings streak to 26 and the Texas Rangers wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics with a 3-0 victory Wednesday. Donnie Murphy homered and Michael Choice … More »

    AP - Sports - 20 minutes ago
  • Party a century in the making for Wrigley Field

    Party a century in the making for Wrigley Field

    ''Happy Birthday, Wrigley Field,'' it read. Exactly 100 years after the Chicago Federals pounded the Kansas City Packers in the first game at the famed ballpark, Wrigley was the scene of a joyous birthday bash on Wednesday afternoon. Banks and … More »

    AP - Sports - 20 minutes ago
  • Francona: Salazar not tipping pitches

    Francona: Salazar not tipping pitches

    The Indians believe the only tipping Danny Salazar is doing is to cab drivers and waitresses. One night after Cleveland's struggling right-hander said he might be tipping his pitches, Indians manager Terry Francona said Salazar is just leaving too … More »

    AP - Sports - 20 minutes ago
  • Joakim Noah is suing his former shoemaker, claiming they failed to pay him and contributed to his foot injuries

    Joakim Noah is suing his former shoemaker, claiming they failed to pay him and contributed to his foot injuries

    Joakim Noah work Le Coq Sportif from 2007 to 2013. … More »

    Ball Don't Lie - 22 minutes ago
  • Selanne’s son tweets disapproval, suggests roster move for Boudreau

    Selanne’s son tweets disapproval, suggests roster move for Boudreau

    Part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. Just ask Eemil Selanne, son of Ducks forward Teemu Selanne. He is learning a very important lesson today: whatever you say on the internet is here forever. Not only … Continue reading → … More »

    Puck Daddy - 24 minutes ago
  • Cubs lose on Wrigley's 100th birthday

    Cubs lose on Wrigley's 100th birthday

    CHICAGO (AP) -- Fittingly, the Chicago Cubs marked Wrigley Field's 100th birthday with a loss - a dramatic, error-filled one, at that. … More »

    AP - Sports - 24 minutes ago
  • Bobcats F Jefferson to start vs. Heat

    Bobcats F Jefferson to start vs. Heat

    MIAMI (AP) -- Al Jefferson is in Charlotte's starting lineup for Game 2 of the Bobcats' Eastern Conference first-round series against the Miami Heat. … More »

    AP - Sports - 24 minutes ago
  • Oldest ex-Major League Baseball player dies in Cuba at 102

    Oldest ex-Major League Baseball player dies in Cuba at 102

    By Daniel Trotta HAVANA (Reuters) - Conrado Marrero, at 102 the oldest former Major League Baseball player and a patriarch of Cuban baseball known for his quick wit and goofy pitching delivery, died on Wednesday at his home in Havana. Marrero, who … More »

    Reuters - 29 minutes ago
  • Bills to issue store credits to end text claim

    The Buffalo Bills are going to pay up for oversharing. The team has reached a settlement with fans who say the team sent them too many texts, agreeing to issue debit cards for the Bills store worth $58 to $75 each. Along with the $2.5 million … More »

    AP - Sports - 38 minutes ago
  • Criminal charges considered after peewee hockey brawl in Winnipeg

    WINNIPEG - Criminal charges have been recommended following a peewee hockey brawl in Winnipeg, but police say they haven't decided if there will be any arrests. Jason Michalyshen said Wednesday that Crown prosecutors reviewed the case and suggested … More »

    The Canadian Press - 39 minutes ago
  • Tampa's Johnson, Palat up for Calder

    Tampa's Johnson, Palat up for Calder

    Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are finalists for the NHL's top rookie award. They're joined by Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche in the running for the Calder Trophy. Johnson had a rookie team-record 24 goals … More »

    AP - Sports - 40 minutes ago
  • Death of Australian player weighs heavy on team

    Death of Australian player weighs heavy on team

    The locker where Chris Lane once got ready to play now sits empty on the campus of East Central University in Ada. He died less than a day before he was scheduled to return to East Central to start his senior season. … More »

    AP - Sports - 44 minutes ago
  • Sherman addresses race issue at Harvard

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman says he refuses to back down from his raging rant after the NFC championship game because he wants to ''educate the uneducated.'' … More »

    AP - Sports - 45 minutes ago
  • Mike Francesa may have just tipped the Giants' 2014 schedule

    Mike Francesa may have just tipped the Giants' 2014 schedule

    Did Mike Francesa just reveal the Giants' 2014 schedule? … More »

    Shutdown Corner - 46 minutes ago
  • Seahawks QB Wilson divorcing from wife

    Seahawks QB Wilson divorcing from wife

    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has announced that he and his wife Ashton are divorcing. Wilson made the announcement in a statement released by the Seahawks on Wednesday. He says decisions like this are not easy and respectfully asks … More »

    AP - Sports - 50 minutes ago
  • NCAA proposal for governance change

    Highlights from a proposal to change governance at the NCAA. The Division I Board of Directors is expected to discuss the plan Thursday: - The five biggest football conferences - the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC - would gain more autonomy … More »

    AP - Sports - 52 minutes ago
  • Klinsmann close to finalizing pre-World Cup roster

    Just three weeks remain before the start of the United States' pre-World Cup training camp, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann is close to finalizing the players he'll invite. Preliminary 30-man rosters are due to FIFA by May 13, the day before the … More »

    AP - Sports - 53 minutes ago
  • Mayweather preaches patience ahead of Maidana bout

    Mayweather preaches patience ahead of Maidana bout

    (Reuters) - Five-division world champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. says he will take his time and "be smart" when he faces Marcos Maidana of Argentina for their welterweight title unification in Las Vegas next week. Mayweather, who has a 45-0 record … More »

    Reuters - 54 minutes ago
  • Freestyle skiing pioneer Burke among new Canada's Sports Hall of Fame members

    Freestyle skiing pioneer Burke among new Canada's Sports Hall of Fame members

    Now, Sarah Burke's legacy will live on in Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. Burke, who tragically died at age 29 from a training accident in 2012, headlined the 2014 class named for induction Wednesday. "I think she'd be pretty overwhelmed, she'd be … More »

    The Canadian Press - 54 minutes ago
  • Ishikawa refuses minors, now free agent

    PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Travis Ishikawa, the Pittsburgh Pirates' opening-day first baseman, refused an outright assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis and elected to become a free agent. … More »

    AP - Sports - 56 minutes ago
  • Phils activate P Hamels to face Dodgers

    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Philadelphia Phillies have activated Cole Hamels from the disabled list to make his season debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 3 minutes ago
  • Russell Wilson, wife file for divorce after two years of marriage

    Russell Wilson, wife file for divorce after two years of marriage

    The Seattle quarterback has filed for divorce. … More »

    Shutdown Corner - 1 hour 3 minutes ago
  • The 10-man rotation, starring the Rockets' reserves and the potential folly of not using them

    The 10-man rotation, starring the Rockets' reserves and the potential folly of not using them

    A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out. … More »

    Ball Don't Lie - 1 hour 6 minutes ago
  • Oldest ex-MLB player Marrero dies at 102

    Oldest ex-MLB player Marrero dies at 102

    Conrado Marrero, the diminutive Cuban right-hander who pitched for the Washington Senators in the 1950s and in 2011 became the oldest living former Major League Baseball player, died in Havana on Wednesday. He wasn't reacting,'' Rogelio Marrero … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 8 minutes ago
  • Country star McGraw loves life in GT fast lane

    Tim McGraw drives in the carpool lane most days instead of pushing 100 mph with the windows rolled down and hair pulled back. ''I drive the Griswold family cruiser,'' McGraw said, laughing. So McGraw, a noted car enthusiast, traded his cowboy hat … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 8 minutes ago
  • Valcke 'happy' with Cuiaba stadium despite delays

    Valcke 'happy' with Cuiaba stadium despite delays

    FIFA's top World Cup official is satisfied with the pace of work at the stadium in the western Brazilian city of Cuiaba even though a delay in the delivery of seats prompted the venue's inauguration to be postponed this week. FIFA Secretary General … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 10 minutes ago
  • Kidd not worried about Pierce for Game 3

    Kidd not worried about Pierce for Game 3

    Jason Kidd never appears worries about anything, certainly not about someone like Paul Pierce. Even if Pierce's matchup was completely one-sided in Toronto's favor in Game 2. He couldn't get his shot to fall, couldn't keep his man off the boards, … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 12 minutes ago
  • Happy 100th, Wrigley Field! A few memories

    Happy 100th, Wrigley Field! A few memories

    Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, marks the 100th anniversary of its first game on Wednesday with a matchup against Arizona. Some stars who graced its friendly confines offer their memories: --- Mike Ditka has a question. Well, an … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 14 minutes ago
  • Wizards back home leading Bulls 2-0

    Wizards back home leading Bulls 2-0

    The Chicago Bulls failed to score for more than seven minutes. This was the final 3:53 of regulation and the first 3:45 of overtime in Game 2 of a playoff series. Chicago got to the postseason by being stingy. Yet, so far at least, the Washington … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 16 minutes ago
  • Bears, RB Draughn agree on 1-year deal

    LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -- The Chicago Bears have agreed to a one-year contract with running back Shaun Draughn. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 17 minutes ago
  • Jackson reiterates he won't coach Knicks

    Jackson reiterates he won't coach Knicks

    The coaching search is on in New York, and the best possible candidate has already been eliminated. Phil Jackson won't be hiring himself to coach the Knicks. Two days after firing Mike Woodson, Jackson reiterated Wednesday that he won't be … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 17 minutes ago
  • Johnson, Poythress returning to Kentucky

    Johnson, Poythress returning to Kentucky

    LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky's frontcourt will bring back size and experience next season after freshman center Dakari Johnson and sophomore forward Alex Poythress announced they would return. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 20 minutes ago
  • Swan sells 2 cars, keeps Kligerman

    Troubled NASCAR team Swan Racing has found a home for driver Cole Whitt, while keeping Parker Kligerman under contract. Swan Racing minority owner Anthony Marlowe merged his ownership of the No. 26 team in BK Racing. Whitt will remain behind the … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 21 minutes ago