The NFL is dealing with the aftermath of an internal investigation that has put a black eye on the league as a whole.
The New Orleans Saints' bounty program, in light of the increasing evidence that concussions lead to serious issues with players after retirement, has led even the game's great defenders like SI's Peter King wondering aloud if parents will begin backing away from the game because of long-term issues and concerns of head trauma.
But the NFL continues printing money, selling tickets and doesn't have many concerns about national broadcasters and advertisers asking too many questions.
On the other hand, the NHL has its share of concussion problems. Just in the last couple years, superstars like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews have missed significant action due to the adverse effects of head trauma. And one of the lasting images from the first couple rounds of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs is that of Marian Hossa leaving the ice on a stretcher after a hit by Raffi Torres.
Torres, a well-documented repeat offender, was subsequently suspended by the NHL for 25 games for his actions. But what good does a suspension do when players continue taking cheap, high hits on each other?
Perhaps the more fearful question: Does the NHL have a similar problem to the NFL when it comes to bounties?
Simply put: No.
There is no need for bounties in the NHL.
There's an unwritten code in hockey that is fairly simple. Morons make dumb plays. And other morons clean up after those morons. If there's bad blood between teams, everyone knows it, and the guys that are paid to drop the mitts do so. If there's bad blood between players, they might not even have to talk about it before the game; they get on the ice together and sparks fly.
The NHL has a long history of violence and fighting, something players have dealt with for generations. All the way back to Howie Morenz's awful death after an ugly injury, and to the present, where serious questions have been raised about the future of Crosby, superstars have taken a beating.
And there have been "enforcers" who have been paid to protect superstars as well. Just as Marty McSorley made sure Wayne Gretzky found open ice, there have always been players who know their job is to keep their team's No. 1 guy on his skates.
Most players acknowledge the game needs to have its best players at their best for the game itself to flourish. With a new television deal in place that will drive bigger dollar amounts into every market in the league, there is incentive for teams to keep their players on the ice and not to pay players to take someone out.
Are players targeted? Perhaps. Certainly Claude Giroux opened a playoff game this spring by immediately letting Crosby know what was up. And watching the first two games of the Phoenix-Chicago series shows that Torres chased Hossa on a number of occasions, eventually putting the big hit on him in Chicago.
But bounties in the NHL? I just don't see it. In spite of officiating (or lack thereof) and suspension videos from new league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, the game has and always will continue to police itself on the ice. It's a fast-moving sport that takes care of its own business. And that's why we, as fans, love it.
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