GMs propose penalty for blind-side hits to the head
The 30 GMs, in their final day of meetings here, emerged from Wednesday's discussion with a unanimously approved resolution to introduce a new rule proposal to penalize blind-side hits to the head.
The rule proposal reads as follows:
"A lateral, back pressure or blind-side 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 major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."
The proposal will be presented to the Competition Committee later this spring for approval before going before the Board of Governors for final approval. If passed, as expected, it would take effect at the start of the 2010-11 NHL season.
Wednesday's resolution brings to a close an intense several months of debate throughout the hockey community, a debate that was brought to the forefront by Mike Richards' blind-side hit on Florida's David Booth on Oct. 24. Booth suffered a concussion on the shoulder-to-head hit and missed 45 games. Under current NHL rules, the hit was legal body contact.
"The hit that pushed the managers over the brink because of the results is the Richards-on-Booth hit and the feeling that something had to be wrong from that hit to the side -- for the lack of a better term, the blind-side hit," NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said.
Sunday's blind-side hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke on Boston's Marc Savard added further urgency to the discussion. Savard suffered a Grade II concussion on the play and had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher.
Cooke was not penalized on the play, and, reportedly, after review by Campbell, there will be no supplementary discipline.
While much work remains to be done on the issue -- including the final wording of the rule -- there was a true sense of accomplishment emanating from the group Wednesday.
The general managers believe they have stemmed the tide on predatory hits creeping into the game during the past several seasons.
This rule, says Toronto GM Brian Burke, is tangible proof of all the hard work the game's managers have put into this issue, as well as their efforts to limit the amount of concussions suffered by NHL players.
"The fact is, I think we've been very proactive in this area," Burke said. "For more than 10 years we've been working on the whole concussion issue. The game has evolved; we've made the game faster and created a new hitting area, which is on the back-pressure side. We need to tell our players what's acceptable and what's not going forward. We have to take this hit out of the game."
Several GMs mentioned the evolution of the game in response to the package of measures instituted in 2005 to take obstruction out of the game. In taking out the center red line and eradicating many of the measures -- hooks and holds -- used by players to slow down opposing forecheckers, the game changed in its very nature.
"We increased the speed of this game ten-fold, and in doing that we also increased the collision force in these hits," Campbell said.
Not only is the game faster, but the players are bigger and stronger than they have been at any time in the game's history.
"You're dealing with guys that are 6-foot-1 1/2 and 208 pounds, who are skating 25 to 30 miles per hour," said New York Rangers GM Glen Sather, who has been part of the NHL for more than 40 years as a player, coach and manager. "There is a lot of impact involved now that wasn't there 10 or 15 years ago."
Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren, a pretty rugged hitter during his playing career, knows the players doing the hitting in today's game face a whole different set of variables when they decide to deliver a hit. And he said he believed the time has come to give them a better understanding of what is and isn't acceptable in this new world order.
"There has been some evolution, particularly over the past few years because of the rules package instituted after the lockout, that has created a different game," Holmgren told NHL.com. "There are some critical areas on the ice where the puck carrier is in an awkward position and a lot of players are congregating into that area and you can't slow that player down anymore by hooking him, you can't get a stick on that guy and your only recourse is to try to hit him. All we are saying is just don't hit him in the head."
For many GMs, Holmgren's explanation strikes at the core of what they are trying to accomplish with Wednesday's proposal. This is not, they insist, an attempt to tamp down the physicality that makes hockey unique, but rather to get a troublesome aspect of that physicality under control.
Hitting, even hitting to the head with the shoulder, will be acceptable under this proposal. It will just have to be done in a straight-ahead manner and not from the side.
In essence, the GMs believe they have started a tangible shift in the culture of the game.
As long as hockey has been played in North America, it has been the responsibility of the puck carrier to avoid being hit. But under the parameters of today's game, the GMs are acknowledging it is no longer possible for a player to always avoid the blind-side hit to the head. Therefore, they now have placed some of the responsibility on the player delivering these types of hits.
"You can still hit this guy, you just can't target his head," Burke said. "Hitting in our game -- it's part of the fabric of our game. It's what's distinctive about hockey in North America. Anywhere else on the planet you go, there's not as much hitting as there is in our game. We want to keep that, we want to preserve that. But we want to take out a dangerous hit where a guy targets a guy's head. He can still reef the guy; he just can't target his head."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor