The uproar that rose from the actions of Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber on Wednesday night at the Bridgestone Arena signaled one thing bright and clear: The days of hockey boorishness are drawing to an end.
    
For those who were unable to catch what happened, Weber smashed Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg’s face into the glass as time expired in the third and final period of a 3-2 Nashville victory in game one of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
    
This was in response to Zetterberg checking Weber from behind, coupled with Detroit winger Todd Bertuzzi throwing haymakers at other Predators players.
    
For those familiar with the sport, that sounds like playoff hockey. When you factor in that Detroit and Nashville are the two most evenly matched clubs in the playoffs and hold one of the most intense rivalries in the NHL between them, such actions should warrant little surprise.
    
However, in the current age of recognizing the long-term effects of head injuries, such a play is unacceptable. The NHL should be praised for its forward-thinking regarding blows to the head.
    
Brendan Shanahan, who took over as the NHL’s Director of Player Safety before the regular season, did a great job in his first season as the league’s disciplinarian.
    
Not only did he hand out 44 suspensions in 135 games, Shanahan released video detailing the reason behind each and every suspension he dealt over the course of the season.
    
Nonetheless, Shanahan, who played in 1,524 NHL games over 21 seasons, dating back to 1987 and as recently as 2009, might still have a bit of the old-school hockey spirit within him.
    
Many expected him to dole out at least a game suspension for Weber’s hit on Zetterberg, but instead he handed out a $2,500 fine. That’s chump change for Weber, whose $7.5 million contract awarded in arbitration in the off-season tops the list for NHL defensemen.
    
The lack of a suspension allowed Detroit to take disciplinary matters into their own hands. Bertuzzi and Weber dropped the gloves not even two minutes into game two on Friday night, culminating in a stalemate between two of the strongest players in the league.
    
The actual fight and suspension notwithstanding, it is clear that the goon is a dying breed in the NHL.
    
When such brutish actions are disallowed from a rivalry game in the playoffs, such truth becomes abundantly obvious.
    
Just take a look at Nashville winger Brian McGrattan. His duties on the ice are pretty simple: knock opposing players out of their skates. However, he has been out of the lineup for the majority of the second half of the season. He hasn’t seen the ice once during the playoffs.
    
While some of the time missed during the regular season may be attributed to an injury McGrattan sustained, it nonetheless exemplifies the direction the NHL is heading.
    
No longer can you go on the ice in an NHL game without a certain level of skill. An example of this transition is Predators center Paul “Goose” Gaustad. Gaustad has essentially taken over the role of big-bodied player in the bottom-six of the Preds forward group. However, rather than playing like a Bash Brother from the 1977 movie “Slap Shot,” Goose plays a role as an effective face-off winner and penalty killer. He also opened the scoring in the playoff series against Detroit.
    
All of these changes indicate that player safety is on the rise in the NHL. The cornucopia of concussions this season shows that players are now sitting down after sustaining a concussion. Perhaps in earlier days, such head injuries would go untreated and unnoticed.
    
With stars such as the Philadelphia Flyers’ center Claude Giroux, Weber, Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger and Penguins center Sidney Crosby watching from the stands while recovering from a concussion at one point or another this season, the issue can no longer be ignored.
    
These shifts all point toward a greater emphasis on putting the puck in the net (who would have thought of that?) and a lesser emphasis on putting your opponent on a stretcher.
    
Although this journalist was admittedly a rather unskillful enforcer during his hockey playing days, I applaud the changes taking place on hockey’s grandest stage. The skill level and speed of the game have only increased as goons have been weaned from lineups around the league.
    
Whether bone-crunching hits or tantalizing dangles are the modus operandi of the day, the product being put on the ice is superlative entertainment.


— Ashton Smith is a sophomore in communications. He can be reached at ssmit192@utk.edu.