News / Winnipeg

Bauming: McCabe-Laine hit not worth changing NHL rules

The Laine collision left many breathless, but asking "if McCabe needed to hit Laine that hard," raises a couple of pressing issues, writes Darrin Bauming.

Jake McCabe #29 of the Buffalo Sabres leaves the ice bloodied after a fight with Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets (not shown) during the third period at the KeyBank Center on January 7, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. Sabres beat the Jets 4-3.

Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Jake McCabe #29 of the Buffalo Sabres leaves the ice bloodied after a fight with Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets (not shown) during the third period at the KeyBank Center on January 7, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. Sabres beat the Jets 4-3.

The collision between Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine and Buffalo Sabres defenceman Jake McCabe last weekend left a lasting mark on hockey fans. In the aftermath of a hit that resulted in both players reeling from injury — McCabe with a deep cut under his eye that required roughly a dozen stitches, and Laine out indefinitely with a concussion — a greater conversation emerged.

Many continue to debate the merits of such violent, open-ice — and legal — hits in today's NHL and whether they belong in hockey anymore. Earlier this week, Metro's Braeden Jones argued "the definition of 'clean' should be adjusted," and "hard hits don't belong in hockey anymore."

While the NHL is a violent game, employing men paid millions of dollars to entertain hockey fans, nobody wants to see anyone suffer serious injury, be it a concussion or otherwise. The Laine collision left many breathless, but asking "if McCabe needed to hit Laine that hard," raises a couple of pressing issues.

First, was there intent to hurt Laine, or was the defender simply ensuring one of the league's most dynamic offensive threats doesn't stroll around him? And secondly, is any player able to temper their speed and strength to a "reasonable" point where they will be able to effectively do their job while also ensuring subsequent injury does not occur?

First, let's look at McCabe's face which needed roughly a dozen stitches to close the gaping wound after colliding with Laine's helmet. Is this an instance where one player doled out unnecessary punishment? It looks more like an unfortunate incident resulting from the fastest game on earth. Laine is six-foot-five and 206 pounds — hitting him within the rules of the game puts both parties at risk. It always does. And Laine should be held equally responsible for his own safety, with the puck on his stick and in the path of a check within the rules of the game.

NHLers are paid beyond handsomely to play in the best league in the world, and part in parcel of the paycheque is the risk of injury. Ask any player. It comes with the territory.

This is far from an epidemic. Hellacious open-ice hits are a relatively rare occurrence in today's game, and it's likely because both players assume similar injury risk. The McCabe-Laine hit wasn't even that hard, paling in comparison to the unfortunate result.

Second, can we assume McCabe could still effectively do his job while assuring he did not hit Laine "too hard?" Just look at what Laine has been able to do in his first 42 NHL games — 21 goals and 37 points, while compiling multiple highlight reel plays. If McCabe lets up while attempting to check Laine, he could be allowing a goal-scoring machine to walk right around him, and those aforementioned handsome paycheques will soon be gone for Mr. McCabe.

I'm just not sure how you ask a player to find that "happy window" where it is both ensured he can effectively do his job while assuming a lower injury risk. You wouldn't be changing a rule or two — instead transforming a competitive professional game into a non-competitive one.

The NHL should do everything possible to continually ensure the highest level of safety for the players, but proposing fundamental changes as to how the game is played is precipitous. Over-regulating the level of effort and drive in professional sports will transform it into professional theatre.

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