Last night Matt Martin fought Tom Kostopoulos and quickly dropped him to the ice unconscious. No word at the time of this writing about Kostopoulos’ condition. The video was shared a few million times across the web and a like amount of jokes and comments about the knockout dominated social media. I’m sure that the NHL held their breath for a few hours and then let out another sigh of relief.
Kostopoulos went after Martin because he didn’t like a body check that the latter had put on a team mate. The culture of revenge won’t stop Martin, or any other aggressive player who plays tough, from hitting their opponent. But it will continue to result in players trading blows, with some nursing bruised hands and heads while others, like Kostopoulos, will be nervously attended to on the ice by the team trainer. At some point the result will likely be much worse.
What happens when a player eventually dies after an NHL fight? Some NHL’er is going to drop to the ice and hit their head, something that has already occurred at a lower level (Don Sanderson). I think that it’s even more incredible that a player hasn’t slipped into a coma in the minutes or hours after a fight as that is something that is far more common with head trauma.
I would find it hard to believe that the NHL and team executives have not had a discussion about the possibility. Is it possible for a professional organization to simply ignore a potential disaster when they get a reminder of the consequences on a nightly basis?
After the recent Frazer McLaren and David Dziurzynski fight, which ended with Dziurzynski unconscious on the ice, a minor media storm on fighting in hockey blew across the internet. The NHL hunkered down and rode it out without a comment while seemingly everyone else with a web-pulpit (including me) weighed in on the issue.
Defenders of enforcers and fisticuffs trotted out the usual supportive arguments but the most popular was; the players understand the risks and accept them in return for the privilege of playing professional hockey. So why is the NHL Department of Player Safety bothering to address any safety issues? Who cares if they drive each other into the boards from behind? Why spend endless hours reviewing video of blatant elbows or shoulders to the head? Let em swing sticks, spear each other, or allow them to yank out their opponent’s skates at full speed while trying to avoid icing. If they accept the risks of dropping the gloves then stop trying to make them safe everywhere else on the ice. The difference? Fight related injuries primarily impact the 4th line grinder or enforcer, not the top players on each team. If the star players fought every 2nd game, and were dropping to the ice unconscious and bloody, then the GMs and NHLPA would come to an agreement pretty quick.
The NHL and NHLPA are playing Russian Roulette. They know that the catastrophic bullet is in the chamber yet they allow the cylinders to spin and wait for their luck to run out. Perhaps they feel that they have been lucky for so long – decades of fighting without a single fatality on the ice – that addressing the issue is not critical. Sure there are numerous serious injuries every year, from broken hands, fractured orbital bones and concussions, but nobody has died. What they can’t see is the hidden damage from years of blows to the head. If concussions experts are correct then players will experience significant problems in their later years because of years of NHL and NHLPA inaction.