TORONTO - Don Cherry knows where the blame lies for the spate of head shots in the NHL—and it's not in the rule book.
"It's the players—they have no respect," Cherry said. "What rule would you put in, don't hit to the head?"
The colourful and outspoken "Hockey Night in Canada" commentator made the comments Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre ahead of the annual Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
Debate in hockey circles over what do is raging again with superstar Sidney Crosby sidelined with a concussion after taking questionable hits from Washington's David Steckel and Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman.
There are suggestions that the NHL should institute a rule banning all contact with the head, beefing up the decision last year to punish blindside hits to the head.
Cherry argues that it's on the players, not the league office, to get things right.
"It's a big buzz word now, head shots," he said. "Remember about five years ago, it was hits from behind? It's always been in the game, the respect is not there and it starts when they're in bantam because of all the helmets, the big cages, the big equipment and the kids just don't have respect for the head like they used to."
On the surface, banning all contact with the head seems like an easy decision to make. But the counter-argument launched by some is that it may reduce physical play in the game.
Cherry, for instance, feels it's only contact from the side that needs to be eliminated, not hitting when players are facing one another.
"If you got your head down, you're stupid enough, you'll get it," said Cherry. "But the blindside, when you don't have a chance, like Crosby didn't have a chance, (Marc) Savard didn't have a chance, when you blindside a guy, that's the guys they should really rap because they're cheap shots.
"In the old days you would never do that because if you did that in the old days, blindsided a guy, you knew you were going to pay the price and somebody was going to get you. Not now. How can you with the instigator rule?
"It's vigilante, yeah. But we never had cheap shots like that to the head before."
It's unclear when exactly Crosby suffered his concussion. He was hit by Steckel during the Winter Classic on New Year's Day but remained in the game and then played against the Lightning, when Hedman got him.
Cherry believes it was the Steckel hit that hurt Crosby, and that the Capitals forward knew what he was doing.
"I came on right after that, two minutes, and I said, 'The kid meant to hit him. He saw him, he didn't say he set him up, but he hit him,'" said Cherry. "If you hit something, you look back, what did I hit? He knew he hit him and I said Crosby was hurt.
"He got up and played the period and played the next game and I said, 'This kid is hurt.' Just after you're in the game a long time, you know when it's a real good hit to the head."