No Good News about Nicklas Backstrom - A History of Violence in the NHL

This past Monday, February 27th, the Washington Capitals placed center Nicklas Backstrom on long-term injured reserve. The Swede was leading the Capitals in scoring, when he took an elbow to the head from Rene Bourque on January 3rd.

There had been very little news about Backstrom’s recovery until this disappointing announcement. As Washington makes a push for the playoffs down the final stretch of the season, Backstrom’s absence on the first line becomes even more apparent.

In light of Sidney Crosby’s continued absence, stemming from a collision with David Steckel in the 2011 Winter Classic, the league seems to be placing a greater emphasis on penalizing and limiting hits to the head. It has become far too common for players to lead with their elbows, leave their feet, and attack puck-carriers from their blind side. As the NHL rule-book puts it, making a player’s head the “principle point of contact” is wildly dangerous, and threatens to end careers, like the Penguins young captain, or Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins.

Savard was blindsided by the Penguins’ Matt Cooke two years ago, and hasn’t played a game since. It is highly likely that his professional career is over, due to a malicious hit that has no place in hockey, or anywhere for that matter. Cooke did not receive a suspension for this, although this was before Brendan Shanahan began his campaign against illegal hits as the NHL’s chief of player safety.

As an aggressive, full-contact sport, the NHL has its unfortunate history of despicable acts of violence. Here are some of the most heinous incidents.

In 2004, Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore delivered a hit to the head of Markus Naslund, the captain of the Vancouver Canucks. Naslund suffered a concussion, and missed three games. Moore received no penalty, nor further discipline from the league. When the two teams faced off again, nearly a month later, Vancouver forward Todd Bertuzzi attacked Moore from behind, driving his face into the ice, fracturing three vertebrae in his neck, giving him a severe concussion, along with other injuries. Bertuzzi was immediately suspended, missing the rest of the season, and barred from playing over-seas during the 2004-2005 NHL lock-out. He returned the following season. Various legal actions were taken against Bertuzzi.  There is a close-up replay of the incident at the 2:50 mark.

In March of 2007, Chris Simon of the New York Islanders swung his stick with two hands into the neck of New York Ranger, Ryan Hollweg. Simon was suspended for the remainder of the season, and five games at the start of the next season. See the swing at the 1:35 mark.

In December of 2007, a few months after Simon returned from that suspension, he stepped on the leg of Pittsburgh Penguin Jarkko Ruutu, and was suspended for 30 games. Simon played one more game with the Islanders, and was then traded to the Minnesota Wild, where he played his last ten games in the NHL.

In the first round of the 1993 playoffs between the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders, Dale Hunter hit Pierre Turgeon into the boards well after the play, separating Turgeon’s shoulder, resulting in Turgeon missing the next round of the playoffs, and Hunter was suspended 21 games. The hit occurs approximately 40 seconds into the clip.

The longest suspension in NHL history was levied against Marty McSorley in 2000, for hitting Donald Brashear in the head with his stick, causing Brashear to have a concussion on the ice, and suffer a serious concussion. McSorley was found guilty of assault in a criminal court, and suspended for an entire year, although he never played another NHL game anyway.

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