NHL mulls head-shot rule in time for playoffs

 

The NHL is trying to accelerate at least partial implementation of its new rule proposal outlawing blindside headshots in time for the postseason.

 
 
 
 
 

The NHL is trying to accelerate at least partial implementation of its new rule proposal outlawing blindside headshots in time for the postseason.

On Wednesday, which happened to be the 55th anniversary of the Maurice Richard riot in Montreal, not to mention the eve of a potential grudge match between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Bruins tonight in Boston, league disciplinarian Colin Campbell was heard from.

Campbell said on the XM radio show NHL Live that the NHL hoped to at least install a protocol for supplementary discipline, if not instant on-ice regulation of the dangerous hits that remain legal according the NHL rule book.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said Wednesday he thought fast-tracking the rule in time for this season was unlikely, which would be a shame, if it turns out to be true.

The new rule proposal, drafted last week at a three-day GMs meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., was provoked by a blindside hit by Matt Cooke of the Penguins that flattened the Bruins' Marc Savard during a game on March 7. The Bruins star suffered a Grade 2 concussion and is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Hence the possibility of reprisals against Cooke when the teams meet tonight, something that could only worsen an already highly charged situation.

Cooke's hit, similar to one delivered on Oct. 25 by Philadelphia Flyers' Michael Richards to David Booth that sidelined the concussed Florida Panthers forward for three months, now stands as the template for what NHLers are not supposed to do.

But that is only starting next year, according to the league's original timetable for introducing the rule change.

The outcry from many NHL players, the public and the media, not to mention the spectre of yet another catastrophic injury between now and the end of the playoffs, jolted the league to act now on a rule change many believe is years overdue.

There is, and should be, a real sense of urgency about the need to protect the players. But the process to implement that rule in swift fashion remains a tad murky.

Last week, veteran player Mark Recchi of the Bruins spoke for a growing chorus of players when he said the mishandling of the Cooke incident represented a "black mark on our game."

This week, the NHL hockey operations people in Toronto were assembling an instructional DVD of similar hits considered illegal under the new rule, along with those deemed permissible, to be sent to all the teams and the NHLPA.

Ryan Miller, Mathieu Schneider, Jason Spezza, Jeff Halpern and Brian Campbell, himself a victim of a hit from behind by Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin, sit on the competition committee, the joint NHL and NHLPA advisory body that must approve all rule changes.

To pass the new rule in mid-season requires approval by the competition committee and unanimous approval by the 30-member board of governors.

Now, since the league's GMs unanimously approved the change, you'd think it unlikely any team's governor would throw his own GM under the bus and effectively veto adoption of such an important rule. But all it takes is one, which may well be Campbell's fear right now.

In the off-season, rule changes require a simple majority.

As for the players, NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said: "We've started to receive the materials from the league and we expect to have the DVD and an accompanying memo by the end of the week, after which the competition committee will review it."

Neither the NHL nor the NHLPA would commit to a time frame for approval, which is unfortunate. Deadlines provide traction and all concerned need to complete this rule change quickly. The optics for failure to act at this point are potentially devastating.

As drafted by the GMs, the proposed rule reads as follows: "A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or is the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or a major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

Campbell suggested in his radio talk that the NHL could live with finding a middle ground between full implementation of the new rule and enabling the league to mete out a suspension for vicious head hit.

"I don't anticipate doing anything with a penalty call on the ice right now," Campbell said. "I think that would be a difficult thing to consistently administer now, but that's not our issue.

"Our issue probably is making sure that some of the hits that have been experienced can be dealt with from a supplemental discipline aspect."

Deterrence, in other words, which would help, short-term. But for real behaviour change, the sides need to meet on the common ground of player safety and implement the rule change as soon as possible so the hits stop coming.

jmackinnon@thejournal.canwest.com

Check out my blog, Sweatsox, at edmontonjournal.com/blogs

 
 
 
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