Dryden calls for tougher head contact rules


Ken Dryden, the former Canadiens goaltender who has regularly advocated for a less dangerous game, once again is speaking out on hits to the head and suggesting the NHL take an even stronger stand to prevent concussions.

Writing in the online magazine Grantland, Dryden views Sidney Crosby’s problems with brain trauma as the defining theme of the upcoming season and declares,

“This is a difficult time for the NHL, for its commissioner, Gary Bettman, and for hockey. It’s no less difficult for the NFL, for its commissioner, Roger Goodell, for the NCAA, and for football. Head injuries have become an overwhelming fact of life in sports. The immensity of the number, the prominence of the names, the life-altering impact on their lives, and, more disturbing, if that’s possible, the now sheer routineness of their occurrence. The Crosby hit didn’t seem like much. If it hadn’t been Crosby, the clip of the incident would never have made the highlight reel. And if so much can happen out of so little, where is all this going? Who else? How many more? How bad might this get? Careers and lives of players, we know now, have been shortened, diminished, snuffed out by head injuries. What once had seemed debatable, deniable, spin-able, now is not. What once had been ignored now is obvious. Not just contact or collision sports, hockey and football are dangerous sports.

There is little doubt that the hits Crosby absorbed last January and the resulting publicity has a major impact on NHL ownership and management strengthening Rule 48 for this upcoming season (just as the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty and the resulting outcry had a similar impact on strengthening Rule 41.1 on Boarding). But Dryden isn’t satisfied with piecemeal changes to the rules. He feels the dangers caused by hits to the head demand something more.

“For Bettman, it’s time to say: This is a great game, but it has a big problem, one that will only get worse if we don’t do what needs to be done now,” he writes. “Our players will not get smaller, they will not skate slower, the force of their collisions will not diminish. The equipment they wear will not improve fast enough to mitigate the greater risks they will face. ‘Tweaking’ is not the answer. Immediately, Bettman can say, we need to treat any hit to the head as what it is: an attempt to injure.”

The strenghened Rule 48, strangely, has removed the major penalty and game misconduct and allows referees to call a minor for targeting the head. They also can assess a match penalty for attempt to injure, as the referees did to Detroit’s Brendan Smith, who was suspended on Friday for this hit on Chicago’s Ben Smith, who The Chicago Sun-Times reports was concussed on the play.

Dryden is willing to make an exception for hits where the victim makes himself vulnerable, plus minor or incidental contact, but that’s it. As for a player who gets clocked because he’s looking down at the puck, Dryden believes the onus should be on the checker, a departure from the traditional view. He writes,

“In years past, the best way to move the puck forward was believed to be for a player to do it himself, stickhandling up the ice. Having his head down with his eyes focused on the puck was considered an advantage to him. It was only fair, then, that a defender have his own advantage and, unseen by the puck-carrier, be able to blast him. Now the best way to advance the puck is seen to be by passing, so a player with his head down is at a disadvantage already and doesn’t require further punishment. He can be easily stopped with no more than incidental contact. In such cases, a crushing hit to the head (e.g., Stevens on Lindros) is nothing less than an attempt to injure. The common explanations — ‘Because he deserved it’ or ‘Because I can’ — are not good enough in this age of concussions and dementia.”

He also believes fighting must be reconsidered because of the epidemic of concussions. It’s not the place of fighting in hockey that he wants discussed but its potential to cause head injury and brain trauma;  that is what’s most relevant to the discussion now. “This is about the outrageous damage that hits to the head are doing to lives and to a sport,” he writes.

Dryden calls for sports to be “head smart,” for rules to change in all sports that make protection of the head a serious priority. He does not want the game to lose its big hits, become a game without risk, just for the game to be played smarter and safer with a more informed risk.

“How would we make hockey safer?” he asks. “What would need to change? How would this game feel different to play? To watch? What would be lost? Unable to do some of the things they did before, what would players do instead?

“My guess is that a lot less would change and for many fewer players than we think. My guess is also that many of the changes would make our games better, and not only for reasons of safety. If some rules are changed, players and coaches will find ways to adapt and to gain a competitive advantage, because that’s what players and coaches do. They’re dreamers and imaginers. They’re competitive. They need to win. Once, players and coaches came up with the forward pass in both hockey and football and gave flight to sports that had become a static snarl of bodies. They’ll do it again. The mediocre will dig in their heels — they fear they can’t change — and usually that’s enough to stop everything in its tracks. But this time we have no choice.”

You can read Dryden’s entire article here.


  1. Thomas Le Fan says:

    As far as I’m concerned, the rules for elbowing should be adjusted. Elbowing being called when players are not skating, like in a scrum or fighting for the puck along the boards and headhunting being called when the offending player is skating into the hit or lining up the head for a forearm shiver a la Scott Stevens. Headhunting would get an automatic five, game and Shannyview.

  2. --Habs-- says:

    Get used to it boys and girls. Head shots will no longer be tolerated period or at least intentional head hits. Once you ban head shots then how can you not ban fighting where the sole tactic in a fight is to punch the head! Its a dying art in this game and on its last leg. The great one, Mario and Sid have all said it. There is no room in the game for this nonsense. As for protecting players there are rules that can be enforced to protect players! Just like the new rules for head contact. WE can’t loose the likes of Crosby to protect a goons job. Everyone says back in the day we had goons to protect stars! Really? Every team had a goon or 2. So where’s the protection? Goons didn’t go after Lafleur and Sittler and Espo. You know why? There was respect among players back then Adding goons won’t bring back respect. Strict rules will. Make it extremely expensive for a player and team to allow this nonsense to happen. Furthermore I think teams allow this nonsense to happen. On a second offense a player is fined and suspended but the team and coach is also responsible for his players behavior. That has not been addressed yet . Even back in the 70’s goons were entertainment not there to protect anyone. When did you ever see goons go after star players back then. I’ll tell you never. It was all entertainment!

  3. Tony McLean says:

    The Scott Stevens KO mentality has dealt hockey quite a blow – as has the instigator rule and continued interference, hooking and ‘picks.’ I’m not a pacifist (as Dryden is ) but he makes some very good points about headshots and the elimination of stickhandling. I really miss Orr, Hull, Beliveau and Lafleur’s end to end rushes. So do the fans, which is why PK has become such a favourite so quickly.
    “The point is that Fergie wasn’t, and didn’t have to be, a non stop brawler. His hard earned reputation preceded him, and he could keep the opposition in line without spending all night in the penalty box.” – Jean Beliveau

  4. Mondou6 says:

    There are a few issues here…

    1) I’ve noticed that the rules “protecting” players from “hits from behind” have actually caused more problems. 20 years ago, players had to protect themselves at all times, like a boxer does. If they took the puck near the boards, they would expect a vicious hit from behind, brace for it, and never turn their back to the guy about to hit them. Today, if they take the puck on the boards, the first thing they do is turn their back to the defender, because they know the rule is that they can’t be hit from behind. The problem is sometimes defenders don’t follow the rule, and they blast the guy blinds-side into the boards. The rule was better before.

    2) Dryden is absolutely right. We forget that human beings play this game, and those people aren’t just knocked out of hockey for a little while, they are suffering major injuries that could be debilitating for the rest of their lives. If Guy Lafleur played today, getting blasted in the head, missing years to concussions, and maybe suffering some kind of permanent brain damage, how can you say, oh well that’s part of the sport. If permanent disability or brain damage is part of the sport, then Dryden is right, the sport needs to change. It has nothing to do with being “PC”, Dryden played the sport, and he’s a sharp guy.

    • Habs_Norway says:

      1) Agree.
      I mean, whats the deal?
      is it better to be injured, as long as the defender gets punished?
      Or should they, as you say they did before, guard themselves.
      I lean towards the latter.
      Blind-sidings and cheap shots will allways occoure, so i think the players should take more care of themselves, than expecting the commisionaires or bosses to do it for them.
      Tell the attackers to guard themselves, and the defenders to “not injure” the opponents.
      But thats easy for me to say 😛

  5. HABZ24 says:

    I loved dryden as a habs goalie one of the best habs players of all time no doubt. But sometimes it seems he is so p.c. In this case dryden maybe can have the power to stArt a ban all violence in nhl movement

    • Hab-Q says:

      He’s a Liberal what would you expect?

      I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out.

      ~Rodney Dangerfield

    • DadidolizedDougHarvey says:

      Calling someone p.c. is a convenient way not to have to actually deal with the arguments presented. Unbeknowst to anyone on the right, liberals/lefties do not make up a homogeonous lot. There’s actauuly a lot of discussion and dissention, just like there is on the right, if you look carefully enough. calling someone p.c. is self-serving.

  6. Welks says:

    Additionally to the increase in the size and equipment of the goaltenders is some of the changes made by the Bettman error folks to the game itself. Many had the exact opposite effect of their intention. One that I see as having a huge impact was with the moving of the lines all over the place. Back in the 70’s you would see Lafluer cross the blue and pick a corner. But now the blue line is much farther out than where it was in the past. Gretzky would set up behind the net using the lack of space as an advantage to protect himself and make plays to the front. So they move the nets out with the intention of increased scoring and now more players fit behind the net making that play that Gretzky worked to perfection, obsolete. And when they moved these lines around to make the O zone bigger and nets farther away from the boards, the rinks stayed the same size. So where does the space come from. The nuetral zone. And now we have the trap because of the limited nuetral zone space now plays cannot be made without driving players offside. No more plays like Dennis Savard dancing around 5 guys in the nuetral zone and scroring. I think those changes have been overlooked for years and if they put the lines back where they belong the scoring with get a positive boost.

  7. MasterHab says:

    Dryden refers to players and coaches as “dreamers and imaginers” which makes me wonder if he’s even watched a Habs game during the Jacques Martin era yet.

  8. Chorske says:

    Can we just make Dryden commish already?

    In my entire life I have never known Dryden to do or say the wrong thing.

  9. HABZ24 says:

    i was an old time hockey fan, that was before the patchs hit by chara.that for me instantly changed my mind on the violence in hockey. i think its high time fighting was out right banned all together in the nhl.headshots also. bodychecking oh heck ya its part of the game. no other pro league permits fighting.what will it take for change a death then the family sueing the nhl.


    • Habs_Norway says:

      Fighting should not be banned. Its a part of the hockeyculture.
      Leagues in Europe are starting to concider “legalizing” fighting; giving 5min major instead of game misconduct (and in some leagues 1-3 game suspension for dropping the gloves).
      This to attract more people to the games.
      You have from 10-30000 people in your arenas. In Norway (yes i know, not even worth mentioning) we have between 500-3000 attendants.
      Some European leagues are called, by the fans, womenhockey. Like floorball. No contact. No aggression.

      And a boring hockey match is among the worst there is..

      In Russia f.ex, the rules are a bit more like yours. A player does not get suspended 2-3 games.


      The system we have in Norway results in many bad plays, like slashing and other negative stick-use. Dirty plays insted of “Get it on and over with”..

      And by having different teams in the NHL playing different styles, like Habs play much more “Soviet hockey” (one timed passes, odd man rush, and plays including the whole line) than the Bullies physical game, it allways creates a own type of anticipation towards the game. “who will win, the tough-guys or the technical guys?”
      Strenght vs Skills, in a game where you need both.

      People say to me after a “good” game here: All that was missing was a fight between X and Y. Instead theyre just roughing eachother up a bit every time the ref blows his whistle.. 2min a piece.

      The Chara incident is a nice example of what i call “fail in morale”.
      Like its been said, some players go after another just to injure them.
      THATS the problem. Not a fight. Not a hard hit.
      But theres a major difference.
      If i rush towards a player thinking: “im gonna make you sit out the rest of the game”, its noot good.
      But if im like: “Im gonna mess you up real bad! Taste the boards!” and deliver a bonecrushing tackle, its ok.
      Hockey is fast, sometimes a player can be unlucky and hit someone and injure them, without wanting to.
      And 5-10 games for a “bad and unlucky choice” is too hard i think.

      But a question: what do you (all readers) think of this incident


      A player from “my team” attacks an agitator, who has been on his neck the whole game and the whole season, doing cheapshots and dirty plays all the time. Because of the 3-5 game ban they will get for fisticuffs, it boils over for the VIF player (in white jersey).

      This is characterized as a “hockey assault” and a “act of terrible violence”, here. He got 18 games suspension.
      The “victim”, Koivu was – according to media and his club, “dead”.. But he played fine the next day.. Dirty player who got what he deserved. But in the wrong way.

  10. CharlieHodgeFan says:

    The biggest thing missing from hockey, and the thing that has hurt the popularity of the game the most, is the disappearance of the 50+ goal scorer. They are so rare, it is ludicrous. They have to be given room, because they guys who used to be 50 goal scoring arena fillers score 30 now. The skills are there, but the game has been cluttered up.
    If all you want to see is hitting, go to a 24 hour Walmart in the States after the bars close. Hockey is a flying sport – skating, scoring and great goaltending. Yeah, bodychecking is good, fun and a big part of the game. But Don Cherry’s game is hockey with its wings clipped.
    The game is suffering, but it’s worse for the players. Dryden’s reference to ‘dementia’ and not just concussions is a key one. I visit a dementia ward a couple of times a week. Maybe players like Chara should do the same sometimes. It not somewhere any of us want to end up if we can avoid it.

    • The Cat says:

      Its funny how there were 50 goal scorers in eras where the game was apparently dragged down by the red centre line and by constant clutching and grabbing. The skills arent there so much nowadays, the product is watered down a bit, and people seem to associate speed with skill. Just cause a player has speed, it doesnt make him skilled necessarily. And, every team has 5 or 6 players that shouldnt be NHLers.

      [Disclaimer]: I’m a hockey fan. I care about the habs, but probably not as much as you.

      • neumann103 says:

        Normally when I get into discussions about the “good old days” of hockey, I am the old guy articulating the “get of my laaaaaawnnn” point of view. I get the sense that among the HIO commentariat there are many even older (!) than I am.

        My first hockey memories are of Mr. Dryden’s rookie playoff run. The year he took off to finish law school was simultaneously completely understandable to my nascent upper upper middle class mind and incomprehensible to my hockey heart. There is an image burned in my mind of a pan down the Habs bench showing the lost faces in a doomed effort against the New York Rangers whose collective angst resounded “Bunny is a nice guy and all, but Kenny we hardly knew ye.”

        All in the service of saying, while I am no Red Fisher and certainly cannot contend for the curmudgeonly crown, I am not someone who regards the Koivu years as the golden age. Patrick Roy is still “the new guy”.

        The notion that players today are far less skilled than any particular era in the past is nonsense. At least as far back as 1970. And honestly if you are contending that further back than that somehow gets to a promised land of NHL skill, watch some of the games. The 1950s looked like playing in slow motion at a time where the big guys were a size that barely escapes “smurf” designation today. A modern Select team of 12 year old boys would school the Stanley Cup Champions of the 1930s.

        It is a reasonable assumption that expect that the expansion of the NHL has watered down the talent level by overstressing the pool of available players. I can see how you can postulate that filling 150 roster jobs in 1967 vs 800 in 2011 could lead to dilution. But it just is not true. The skills of players today vastly exceed any previous era. The only legacy NHL teams of the 50s or 60s or 70s or even 80s that would have a prayer against a current NHL bottom feeder team are the dynasties of Habs, Islanders and Oilers that owned 4 or 5 consecutive years of dominance.

        You can make the relative argument. Or the distribution argument. Was the worst player in the NHL in 1970 farther away from Bobby Orr than the worst player today is from Sidney Crosby. But no matter how you look at it, today’s NHL player is the product of a machine that turns 4 year olds into purpose built machines in a way that just wasn’t true 30, 40 or 70 years ago.

        I agree that virtually any NHL roster has some players who really don’t belong. I think 5 or 6 per team is the high end, but probably every recent team outside the Detroit Red Wings has had a couple, maybe a bad team has four. Sadly (given recent events) this was always my response to Wade Belak. The “how does he occupy a roster spot in the NHL?” response. Frankly this was my reaction to Hal Gill, prior to his eye-opening (to stupid old me) stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

        What has changed to explain the dearth of 50 goal scorers? Goaltending, for one. Goaltender equipment for fifteen. The difference in the style, focus and gear in nets is huge. The open ice slapshot from 45 feet was a staple goal scoring play of my youth. Today such goals are dismissed as soft goals that “he shoulda had”.

        Puck skills today are way beyond anything in the past. Go to any rink and watch any age of kids. I agree that there is a bunch of hot dog dangling BS that looks good in practice but would be pointless in most game situations, but seriously to derogate the puck handling skills of today in favour of the Bobby Clobbers of the 70s would be insane.

        Dare I say “the trap”? Maybe it is nearer and dearer to my “I can barely skate” heart, but I learned very early and maintain to this day a personal philosophy that I am not going to generate many goals for, but I can certainly prevent many against. Apply this to players with actual talent and rinse and repeat. So as much as I chafe at the JM defense first style, especially as applied to a team with this mch speed, you can understand how it happens.

        So, take those rose coloured glasses off, turn down the Bobby Sherman records, put those Beatle boots up on the couch and turn on the hockey game and consider that a Player like the Habs overpriced, can’t play outside the Carolinas, what was PG thinking, Power Forward would simultaneously be the fastest player on the ice and a veritable one man wrecking crew if transported back 40 or 50 years.

        So yes, I agree, “these kids today!” what with their long hair and their rock and roll, and their hula hoops, it’s getting so’s you can’t tell the boys from the girls except for the colour of their tramp stamps (don’t ask me how I know…officer) but really the golden age wasn’t so golden, the good old days weren’t that good.

        But the Leafs still sucked.

        “Et le but!”

        edited just to correct where I wrote “behind” instead of “beyond” which completely inverted the meaning of the sentence. And I fixed “dearth” the rest of the typos are gloriously untouched

        • CharlieHodgeFan says:

          I love this post.
          I agree the skill set is higher now. Phil Esposito was a deadly scorer but was no speed demon. The old game was slow, and in the Broad Street Bullies era, oftentimes a disgrace.
          There were lots of goals though.
          It comes to adapting the rules to the new realities. The games is cluttered, with oversized goalie equipment and dull rules. Hey, ban the trap. Don’t bring players back after with power play goals. Reduce the size of the padding. Reduce the goalie pads.
          Some teams would get slaughtered on a lot of nights – ours included. But Desharnais, Gallagher, and Gionta might be out buzzing like Cournoyers out there….
          Can you imagine the ref calling a five minute bench major for “trapping”?

        • Landof10000lakesHab says:

          Great post – agreed.

        • Chorske says:

          Absolutely agree with you Neumann. GREAT post.

        • cojohnso80 says:

          Well done Neumann

      • wlmi says:

        to the cat…….i agree………..i have said it for years now….my line is……. just because a guy can skate fast, doesn’t mean he can play hockey. and there are lots of skilled guys that scouts overlook because the fast guy gets noticed…..most of those guys are low point producers

        HNIC Leaf bias is disgusting

    • Chorske says:

      On the other hand, we are in the middle of the Golden Age of goaltending (although that is at its end now, with the pending retirement of Brodeur). And we have been treated to astonishing performances by guys like Roy, Hasek, Brodeur. The demise of the 50 goal scorer has less to do with a general decrease in the level of the game- and the rise of the tough guy, who has always been there- but rather the remarkable changes in goalie equipment and technique.

      That said, I absolutely believe that the “big check” and enforcer mentalities need to be killed from the game, before a player gets killed.

  11. Psycho29 says:

    From Yahoo Groups “Radio In Montreal”:
    Mitch Melnick has posted the following on his Twitter feed:
    “Get ready for “TSN Radio Montreal…”

    Hopefully 990 won’t become all Toronto with Habs’ games thrown in. Maybe only the updates will come from TSN instead of ESPN???
    Should be interesting….

  12. Canadiens_25 says:

    Disappointed in Dryden here a little. Everyone already knows that change has to happen to the game.

    I expect Dryden to offer an educated opinion on how to improve the safety of the game, not to point out what the problem is.

    The facts regarding head injuries have been available for awhile. No disrespect to his opinion, but Ken should tell people what is needed for improvements to the game, rather than point out the already evident faults of the game.

    This has been discussed in all circles of hockey. And Dryden is considered one of the greatest minds involved in hockey over the past half-century. Really he can offer us more than a diagnosis.

    On a side note, I just found my long lost copies of his two books ‘Home Game’ and ‘In School’. Can’t wait to re-read them.

    • G-Man says:

      I think Dryden is adding his name, which gives a lot of weight to the argument. The more people call for the nastiness to end, the more likely it becomes the consensus and then the more likely the NHL does something about it.

  13. PrimeTime says:

    Oh the knucke-dragging crowd won’t like this. IMO the awareness and changes of what Dryden and others are asking will come to fruition but it’s going to take time to educate and evolve. Change takes time but it’ll happen. It has to for the betterment of the game.

  14. Un Canadien errant says:

    Hear hear. It’s time for hockey to improve itself, despite its best intentions. Watching World Cup Rugby is an eye-opener for me. Over the last twenty years, that sport has made incremental changes to improve the flow of the game and favour offence, which means a better show for fans. Numerous changes have also been made to improve player safety, notably in scrum play. As a result, stultifying games of clearing kicks and penalty kicks, exemplified by its chief proponent England, have been eliminated. The sport is now played ball in hand with exciting runs, and teams play hard for 5-point tries now, not four, and instead of playing cautiously for the occasional penalty kick. Hockey needs to understand that lunkheads may seem central to its ‘popularity’, but instead are killing the game. Substituting the cement-hands for skilled players will make the game’s popularity explode. Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan’s mission should be to usher the new age of the 7-6 game and of the 70 goal-scorer.

    How about it NHL? No fighting, just hockey?


    • Mondou6 says:

      Good points. The NHL and some hockey fans seem more concerned with protecting the jobs of goons with no hockey skills than they are with protecting the players with elite hockey skills.

      I hate the Pens and Crosby, but I don’t understand how it’s good for the game if Crosby is knocked out, maybe indefinitely, but the goons are still on the ice every night.

      The argument that fans want to see 250 pound goons slug it out, or cripple skilled players is asinine.

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