Let's talk about the NHL Department of Player Safety
What is going on here?
This is a topic I have been pondering for a few weeks now, and since the regular season is officially over and the first night of the playoffs gave us a controversial hit, I finally had the inspiration to really dig into it.
Over the years I have become a fierce critic of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
The NHL has a lot of flaws as a league, and it has a lot of people in charge that make some really questionable decisions that hold it back.
But the one group of people that drives me craziest is the DoPS.
It was formed prior to the 2011-12 season as a way to cut down on hits to the head with the previous year’s introduction of Rule 48 that focussed on such hits.
Originally, Brendan Shanahan was in charge and in his first two years he swung a hammer at players around the league. Suspensions and fines were frequent, they were harsh, and players learned they had to rapidly adjust. Not everybody loved this because hockey is still a collision sport, and there are still a lot of dinosaurs running things that want to see chaos. It is, in their eyes, a feature and not a bug.
Because of that, the league’s general managers quickly grew tired of Shanahan heavy hand and started to push back. It did not take long for suspension to ease up.
The department has undergone several changes over the years, and in 2016 former NHL enforcer George Parros joined the group.
It was an eyebrow raising addition because Parros’ entire career was built around punching people in the face. That was his role. That is what he did. He was very good at it. The department also included Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger who was one of the most physically intimidating — and dominant — players the league has ever seen. Not really the type of people that make you think “player safety.”
Especially when Parros infamously sold a line of hockey gear that proclaimed to “make hockey violent again.”
A year later, he took over the department as its new leader.
Over the years the NHL has seen a pretty steady drop in the number of suspensions. There are a lot of theories for this.
A couple of months ago ESPN’s Greg Wyshysnki sat down with Parros and discussed some of those theories, ranging from players adjusting and changing their game, to the new head-shot rules making a positive impact, to the department itself being more lenient.
In defense of the DoPS, I do think players for the most part have adjusted and changed their ways to a degree.
The league is no longer the wild wild west when it comes to players getting their brains scrambled on direct hits to the head the way they did prior to and through the 2011 season. There is a lot of truth to that.
While hits to the head were the primary focus of the DoPS, it should not be the only focus.
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