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What the NHL will miss when all the hits are gone

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Of course, the blindside hit on which Nazem Kadri leveled Daniel Sedin a tick, after the younger twin had released a wrist shot in Toronto last Saturday, should be illegal. As has been argued in this space since Chris Neil concussed Brian Boyle in Game 4 of the first round of the 2012 playoffs on a similar hit, players amid a follow-through are vulnerable and defenseless.

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Then again, so are players cutting across the center of the ice with their heads down. So are players who admire passes a little bit too long. And through no fault of their own, so too are players who receive “suicide” passes from teammates with unseen opponents lurking.

Though removing all of these hits from the game, and outlawing all blindside hits in the name of player safety in an era of enhanced education and awareness of the profound dangers of brain injuries, no doubt is prudent and likely is the next step in the 21st century evolution of the sport, no one should discount how materially this will continue to change the game until it is little but a pale third-generation facsimile of what came before.

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Never has there been even close to the array of talent, young and old, on display these days in the NHL. If the first month of this season (following three games of transcendence by Team North America in the World Cup) holds hope for the future, it is from the notion that maybe all these remarkably skilled youngsters arriving on the scene simply are too fast to be reined in by the league’s diabolical, systems-oriented coaches.
But if there is something missing on the ice, it is the art form (to use the term loosely) of physical intimidation. For better or worse, it is gone forever. Better, for the protection of the athletes; worse, for the loss of the raw, primal emotion that historically accompanied the game.

Conn Smythe’s “If you can’t beat ’em in the alley, you can’t beat ’em on the ice” dictum no longer is regarded as sage truth but rather perceived as prehistoric ignorance. “Keep your head up” is regarded as a scold rather than as indispensable counsel.

Hitting is disappearing from the game. Every big blow draws recrimination and retaliation. Those among the Board of Governors who fear that hitting will become extinct if the NHL outlaws all blindside hits have good reason to worry.

It is the Ice Capades out there.

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