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How far will the NHL go before cracking down?

The reactions were rampant but similar in Chicago. The fans hated it, the players hated it and the coaches hated it.

Phoenix Coyotes’ forward Raffi Torres launched a monster check into Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Marian Hossa, which sent Hossa’s head straight to the ice, and later straight the hospital via an ambulance. The United Center was up in arms when a penalty wasn’t called on Torres, but rather on Chicago’s forward Brandon Bollig for a retaliatory fight after the play.

How far will the NHL go before cracking down severely on players’ sending earth-rattling hits or enforcers fighting throughout the season?

Will it take a player being immediately sent to the hospital on a stretcher and neck brace? Will it take a broken neck on the ice? Will the NHL wait until a player dies?

Eight suspensions have already been dished out in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, as of Tuesday night. People have already questioned NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan’s idea of illegal hits when he suspended Blawkhawks’ forward Andrew Shaw for three games for a hit on Coyotes’ goaltender Mike Smith. Yet, Nashville Predators’ defenseman Shea Weber received a $2,500 fine for slamming Detroit Red Wings’ center Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the Plexiglas.

“I’m kidding myself if I say I understand the way hits have been called in these playoffs,” Michelle Beadle, an ESPN personality, posted on her Twitter page.

With Hossa’s injury, what kind of message is the NHL sending if it suspends Torres for multiple games for a hard hit, but only a small fine is given for Weber’s smash when Zetterberg wasn’t injured?

If Hossa gets up, does that make the play any less severe?

Minnesota high school hockey player Jack Jablonski, who made headlines across the nation when he was paralyzed after being checked from behind, was just discharged from the hospital Wednesday morning, after spending 111 days there.

Yes, hockey is a physical sport and the playoffs bring up the competitiveness from each team and player involved. That’s one of the great things about the NHL playoffs. However, at what cost does health need be sacrificed before the NHL realizes that these players’ lives are in danger?

“Raffi Torres hit on Hossa is sickening, predatory [and] mindless.” John Buccigross, another ESPN personality, posted on Twitter.

I know it’s not the popular sentiment, but I understand the referees not calling a penalty on Torres during the play. Watching it in real-time, it’s tough to see Torres leave his feet and it looked like he drove his shoulder into Hossa’s chest not head. However, slow-motion replays make it look bad, and the injury sending Hossa to the hospital makes it look worse.

Thus, I don’t blame the referees as much as the Blackhawks’ bench does. But I do blame the NHL for not being ahead of these issues and allowing these types of problems to go on. When will they catch up with the rest of the world and talk about player safety?

The NFL stepped up to the plate, and made their decisions on protecting defenseless players, kickoff returners and quarterbacks. Whether you think they have gone too far or not, I at least appreciate the NFL trying to stop the injuries, especially blows to the head.

“The playoffs, not saying just based off the hits, it’s not real hockey,” my sister Nikki Nightengale, a high school hockey player, texted me Tuesday night. “All they do is fight and most of the goals are garbage goals.”

Yet, the NHL just turns the other cheek. Three enforcers died in the offseason after a career of punches to the head. Do we have to wait to a death on the ice before the NHL considers this a problem?

If the NHL doesn’t care about the player’s health, then who will?

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