In the midst of the most financially successful season the NHL has ever experienced, a dark cloud continues to loom large across the hockey world.
Injuries—most notably concussions—have been discussed more than ever this year. Modern technology has helped diagnose these ailments, and the consequences have proven to be severe—perhaps even fatal.
Gary Bettman and Co. will be under a heap of pressure this summer to improve the safety of the game, as fans and pundits alike have been calling for major change. And with the collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the league set to expire on September 15, the NHL has a great opportunity to make amends to its rulebook.
A lot of ideas have been thrown around to cut down the number of injuries, most of which have been deemed drastic and controversial.
But that doesn't mean there aren't reasonable, simple solutions as well.
The removal of the red line following the 2005 lockout has helped make the game faster, but that added speed has come at a cost. By allowing two-line passes, more breakaways and scoring chances are occurring, but it's also creating more dangerous hits in the neutral zone.
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Byslma, who has seen the detriments of concussions first-hand, recently weighed in on this topic.
"The red line has increased the speed of the game," he told Shelly Anderson of the Post-Gazette. "I think maybe slowing it down a little bit by putting the red line back in is something to think about. It's faster than it's ever been, and it's played faster than it's ever been. It's the execution of the puck more than it's that the skaters are faster. It's how you can execute with the puck with the red line taken out."
"I'm not saying we should hold and hook, but I think it's a slower game with the red line in," he continued. "I think you'd still have exciting hockey (with the red line) if you continue to not allow holding, hooking, open-hand (grabbing), that type of thing."
While two-line passes have certainly made the NHL more exciting, the harm they cause outweighs the benefits. The extra offense these plays bring mean very little when compared to the well-being of those involved, and the league needs to understand that.
“When the lockout was over, the red line came out and the things the players could do—if you saw someone coming you could hold him up, make him break his stride, that was all taken out of the game,’’ former player Bob Clarke said. "Now you have players of this size, plowing into each other, they can’t protect themselves.’’
Another easy way to reduce head injuries would be to switch to no-touch icing. Like implementing the red line, this would be an easy change to the rulebook that would have enormous benefits over the course of time.
While touch icing hasn't led to a high number of hazardous situations, the ones it does cause have been monumental. Taylor Fedun is a prime example: The 24-year-old broke his femur last September while chasing down a potential icing call. He hasn't skated since.
“I don’t know of any players who aren’t for changing the rule (to no-touch icing),” said Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff. “They know our stance on this. We don’t have control over this, but don’t you have to protect your assets?"
“We’re not talking little injuries here. We’re talking broken legs and ankles," Horcoff said. "These can be career-threatening injuries. For me, there’s no place for (races on icing plays). The league has to look at this again. Unfortunately, it has to be another incident like this. Hopefully, they make the right decision.”
Improving the entertainment value of the game was the main focus when the last collective bargaining agreement was drafted in 2005, but a lot has changed since then. Money should never be a priority over health, especially not when the NHL is as wealthy as it is today.
The real issues here lie with the rules, and for the sake of the players, something needs to be done about it. Luckily, fixing this problem doesn't have to be as difficult as it may seem.
Andrew Hirsh is a credentialed member of the Carolina Hurricanes media and a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewhirsh