Hockey is back, and so are the hits.
Monday night’s preseason game between the Rangers and Flyers featured another dirty one, as Philadelphia’s Radko Gudas, notorious for such play, was at it again. This time he targeted 23-year-old Jimmy Vesey, blatantly and deliberately hitting the New York rookie from behind. A brawl followed and Gudas was given a game misconduct penalty. He won’t face discipline for the hit, though.
The hit was extremely dangerous, driving Vesey’s head into the boards while he was in a vulnerable position. The 6-foot, 204-pound Gudas never stopped skating, hitting Vesey right in the numbers and sending him temporarily to the locker room. While Vesey turned to the boards, he was trying to play the puck and Gudas had plenty of time to avoid making contact. But he didn’t.
This isn’t the first time that Gudas has made a dirty hit that either put someone in danger or resulted in an injury. Against the Rangers last season, Gudas concussed Viktor Stalberg with a hit to the head. He was suspended three games for a hit to the head of now-Ranger Mika Zibanejad in December 2015. He also did it against Bobby Farnham of the Devils last February and was kicked out of that game.
The list of his penalties from last year alone is endless, but Gudas was only suspended once last year for his actions. In fact, in his entire career, which began in 2013, that is his only suspension.
There lies the problem at hand; the NHL is not doing nearly enough to hold dangerous players like Gudas accountable.
Realistically, Gudas shouldn’t be in the league at all. He was ejected three times last February, has a history of countless unsafe plays and has never learned to control his physical play or learn how to hit properly. He said in the past that he doesn’t plan on changing his style either.
“Setting the tone a little bit is part of my game; it’s who I am,” Gudas told Sam Carchidi of Philly.com last year. “The Flyers got me here for a reason, so I want to make sure that everyone knows I’m on the ice and be the best for my team that I can.”
The reason he refuses to change is because of the way the league handles his actions. Time after time, dangerous hits like the one against Vesey are unpunished further than an ejection. For some reason the Department of Player Safety is hesitant to hand out suspensions on these kind of plays, and when they do hand them out, they’re rarely more than a few games, if that.
Players are having setbacks with concussions after hits to the head. Other players are having their careers jeopardized. If the NHL seriously cares about the safety of its players, the disciplinary action needs to be improved and serious. Lengthy suspensions must be handed out for these kinds of hits. For repeat offenders like Gudas, the discipline needs to be even harsher.
The NFL has taken a step in the right direction this season by instituting a new rule where players that receive two unsportsmanlike penalties for aggressive conduct in the same game are ejected. It’s an attempt to cut down on that kind of behavior.
The NHL needs to follow suit. If a player makes a dangerous hit, it should be an automatic ejection followed by a suspension. Crack down on the so-called “goons” of the league and start protecting the players. Make sure teams don’t continue to employ players like this, because the Flyers are just as much at fault for continually putting Gudas on the ice while he injures players and makes illegal hits.
It’s time for the league to finally take hits like this seriously. They cause head injuries, they end careers, and they turn the beautiful game of hockey into something barbaric. There’s always going to be physicality and that’s an important part of the sport, but dangerous and dirty hits and players need to be punished and phased out of the league.
Bobby Bevilacqua is a journalism major from Eastchester, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rpb725.