The Washington Capitals will be shorthanded for the next 3 games, as forward Tom Wilson was handed a 3-game suspension from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Wednesday evening. The suspension was praised by Penguins fans, and it left many Capitals fans wondering what a “legal” check is.
First, let’s clear the air here. I am all for player safety. It should be top priority for every NHL player, executive, owner, and coach. However, when one reads “Rule 48” in the NHL rulebook, it can probably be very confusing to some.
RULE 48 DEFINITION
Here is what “Rule 48” looks like, per the NHL Department of Player Safety:
There are some confusing words in the rule. Using words like “picked” and “poor” are interpretative words and they are based on who is reviewing the evidence for a suspension. There is no clear-cut definition on what defines these words in the ruling. Another thing that is confusing with the rule is when it talks about a player’s posture on the ice. What defines a player’s posture in an instance where a player is the recipient of the hit?
When I look at the ruling, I am very confused by it because there are words that are used that are too broad in meaning. The rule has the right ideas in mind, but it is too broad and not defined enough.
GENETICS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED FOR ALL PARTIES
When a player like Tom Wilson steps on the ice for the Capitals, there are not many players that are as big and strong as he is. Wilson is a big man, as he stands at 6’4” tall and tips the scales at 220 pounds.
Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau is listed at 5’9” tall and tips the scales at 157 pounds.
Let’s compare a check from these two players mentioned. If both respective players go in for a check on an opposing player, Wilson’s collision will be more violent and harder on the opponent. Wilson’s size and speed gives him the power advantage on the ice. Wilson is bigger than the average NHL player, so he has an advantage when he attempts to check someone.
With Gaudreau, he is very small by NHL player standards, so his checks will not produce as much force like Tom Wilson’s will. His smaller posture makes him an easier target to receive a headshot, just because he is shorter than most of his opponents.
If a taller and stronger player goes to check a player that is smaller, the taller player must find a way to get lower to the ice, and they must initiate the check by lowering their shoulders to the smaller skaters’ shoulders.
THE EASIEST SOLUTION: BANNING ALL HEAD CONTACT
One way to get rid of the confusion with Rule 48 is too ban head contact altogether. This is widely controversial because head contact has always been allowed, only under certain situations.
If the league bans all head contact, it will lead to a ripple effect of checking becoming non-existent. Will diehard hockey fans buy in to watching professional hockey that has no checking or fighting? It is highly doubtful.
CONCUSSIONS AND INJURIES CAN HAPPEN EVEN WITHOUT HEAD CONTACT
Hockey is a contact sport. Taking checking out of hockey is like taking tackling out of football. In a contact sport, injuries are not avoidable.
If you polled any current or former professional hockey player, all of them will tell you that concussions can even be caused by clean checks to the chest. Whiplash can happen to any player whether they receive a check to the head or the chest.
CLEAN UP RULE 48
I am an advocate for player safety and research of concussions. However, the NHL must adjust the rulebook in regards to Rule 48.
I want more defined words. I want the NHL to define words like “picked” and “poor.” Simplify the rulebook so the average hockey fan like me can understand it. I would not advise banning all head contact, because I enjoy the checking and physical aspect of the game.
The NHL must find a way to educate players on how to receive a check, and how to deliver a check. The NHL must find a way to give the fans knowledge on how players should act and react on the ice. Once they figure these things out, they need to re-write this rule, and simplify it. If the grey-areas remain in the rule, the controversy will remain.
By: George Foussekis