The N.H.L. general managers meetings ended yesterday with one major rule change – a rule to penalize blind-side hits to the head.
A unanimously approved resolution from the G.M.s will be presented to the Competition Committee later this spring for approval. If it’s approved there, then the Board of Governors would have to give it the final approval. If it gets approved (and it should), the rule will be enforced beginning next season.
Here’s what the resolution says:
“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.”
A few days ago, I argued that the G.M.’s needed to ban these type of hits from the game. While I didn’t think a penalty would go far enough, this seems to be a step in the right direction. While the final language of the rule isn’t set, the rule above seems comprehensive. But there are some words in the rule I can’t agree with.
The first part of the rule I don’t like the fact a “minor” penalty can come from one of these hits. Only giving players a two-minute minor for a dangerous hit would be ridiculous. The possibility of a minor penalty shouldn’t exist. Don’t let the officials be subjective in these rulings. If a player hits another player with one of these blind-side hits, they should be put in the box for five minutes. No argument, no subjective calls. Blind-side hits to the head should only be five-minute majors.
The second part of the rule that I don’t agree with is the “possible” supplemental discipline. If a player decided to complete one of these hits, they’re clearly not worried about playing time or the consequences of their actions. The league should institute a mandatory, two-day suspension for blind-side hits to the head. Put this in context of the recent Matt Cooke – Marc Savard situation. Cooke delivered one of these hits to Savard, giving him a Grade II concussion. Savard was put on a stretcher and taken off the ice. The Bruins center, who was important to the Bruins playoff push, will probably miss the rest of the season. But Colin Campbell let him off without a suspension, which is ridiculous. By instituting a mandatory suspension, these hits will virtually disappear from the game. There still might be a blind-side hit to the head here and there, but it wouldn’t be so prevalent as it has become.
Overall, the G.M.s took a step in the right direction. However, they shouldn’t stop here. By making these two subtle changes, they can strengthen the rule and eliminate these dangerous hits from the game. I think Brian Burke says it best in the following quote:
“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.”
Hitting is a great part of the game. The G.M.s need to tweak the rule and strengthen it to preserve player safety. By doing that, hitting can still continue, but dangerous hits will be gone from the game. And that’s what all players, G.M.s and fans want.
With the N.H.L. general managers meeting underway in Boca Raton, Florida, only one proposed change to the on-ice product surfaced. General managers are leaning toward recommending a rule change that would penalize some, but not all, hits to the head under current NHL rules.
I italicized the words leaning toward to highlight the current language of the rule change. The general manager’s haven’t gone far enough. To make the game safer, N.H.L. general manager’s need to ban hits to the head.
The numbers on head hits in N.H.L. games are revealing. According to Colin Campbell, the N.H.L. director of operations, and Gary Meagher, a league spokesman, noted about seven hits a game are shoulder-to-head hits. Both studied 21 league games, which showed an average of 22 hits to the head per game, from a light brush with a glove to a heavy blow. In all of those games, or 462 instances, there was one penalty called.
Matt Cooke Hit on Marc Savard – 3/7/10
Clearly, there is an issue here with needs to be fixed. While the general managers don’t want to see any of the physical aspect taken out of the game, the general managers need to institute a safer rule on head hits. The N.H.L. Players Association proposed a rule change last season to ban shoulder checks to the head, such as in the Ontario Hockey League and the International Ice Hockey Federation did. This was before hits like the one above and the one you can view below.
Mike Richards Hit on David Booth – 10/24/09
Hits like these aren’t a new problem. With the players calling for a change last year, these problems have existed before. With the speed of the game increasing, especially after the lockout, hits became more violent, and the chances of injury increased significantly. But the league has been slow to respond, and they need to step up and address this issue. The league needs to follow the call of the N.H.L. Players Association and ban shoulder-to-head hits.