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The Big Story: Does the future of the NHL including hitting?

In this May 26, 2000, file photo, Philadelphia Flyers Eric Lindros, third from right, is assisted after getting hit against the New Jersey Devils in Philadelphia. Lindros was skating up the ice with the puck when Devils' Scott Stevens blind-sided him with an elbow. Since retiring from the NHL after repeated head injuries, Lindros has become a strong voice on player safety. AP Photo/Chris Gardner

A radical proposal from a concussion symposium this summer left many wondering: What would the NHL look like if you removed body contact from the game?

It sounds drastic, but that’s something former bruiser and Hall-of-Famer Eric Lindros has proposed as perhaps the only way to protect players in the long term. After all, there’s no hitting in women’s hockey, and that game has given us some true classics in recent years.

“I still think it’s going to be physical, I still think that there is going to be battles over the puck,” Michael Traikos, Postmedia’s national hockey writer, tells The Big Story podcast’s Jordan Heath-Rawlings.

“I just think that instead of you looking at the puck carrier and saying ‘oh I’m going to destroy that guy with a hit,’ you’re going to say ‘ok well I’m going to take the puck away from that guy and score a goal.'”

Related article: Former women’s hockey star Wickenheiser to donate brain to concussion research

Traikos attended the concussion symposium in London where Lindros put forward the idea.

What stands out, he says, is that concussion can affect anyone — not just hockey players.

“The one thing that kind of hits home is that everyone just has a touching kind of story as to head injuries, head trauma, and a lot of it’s not hockey. There’s people saying ‘oh I was playing volleyball,’ or ‘I was playing soccer,’ or ‘I was just running and I slipped and didn’t even hit my head. I had sort of a whiplash reaction and now I’m going through this,'” he recalls.

This isn’t a new discussion, so where do we look for an actual solution to keep athletes safe from concussions?

You can hear the full episode and subscribe to The Big Story podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

You can also hear it online at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

Traikos says there comes a point where we know this is a problem and that people are suffering.

“I think you’ve got to go drastic, and I think that’s a lot of what Eric Lindros and Ken Dryden were saying. They’re saying you’ve got to play the game differently,” he explains.

“When you think of Eric Lindros, you think of that power forward that could play the game, skilled and with speed, but also could play it really nasty and physical.”

So if Lindros says hockey can still be just as great a game, without the body contact many are used to seeing and just by relying on the talent of the likes of Connor McDavid, Johnny Gudreau, or Mitch Marner, Traikos says it’s worth considering.

“I don’t want to see guys get hurt,” he adds. “I want to see Connor McDavid skate up the ice, go through three defenders and score a goal. That gets me out of my seat, not so much the big hit that’s going to send a guy flying on the ice.”

Related article: Ontario passes concussion safety law designed to protect players, educate coaches

It’s not that hitting has no place in hockey, but Traikos says if some can do it, then maybe others can.

“Eric Lindros called me the next day after the symposium and he said ‘I just want to clarify things. I don’t think that the NHL should totally get rid of hitting, but I think that at the adolescent level where you’ve got some kids a lot larger than other kids, maybe you don’t have to have body contact at that age,'” Traikos recalls.

But, if that’s the case, he says it can be a learned behaviour as these kids move up the leagues.

Traikos admits a change in mentality won’t happen overnight. He believes it can perhaps come as younger generations rise up.

“Maybe that is still the fear a lot of people, in the back of their minds, is that if you take away hitting you change the game dramatically to the extent where it doesn’t look like hockey anymore. Well I don’t buy that argument. I still think it’s going to be physical, I still think that there’s going to be battles over the puck.”

The players are just going to figure out how to use skill to get the puck instead.