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Dreger: Cooke's hit front and centre at GM Meetings

Darren Dreger
3/8/2010 6:26:03 PM
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Matt Cooke's hit on Boston's Marc Savard on Sunday will serve as Exhibit A as NHL general managers gather this week in Boca Raton, Florida for meetings.

Cooke's hit, a shoulder to the head and made partially from behind, left the Bruins forward concussed and unable to travel with his team.

Savard was blindsided and according to many of the game's decision makers, was vulnerable. That's exactly what the managers are hoping to clamp down on, a hit to the head on an unsuspecting player.

There was no penalty on the play.

Monday's meetings consist of a variety of presentations relating to the issue of head checking, concussions and the NHL's ongoing concussion management program.

The NHL has invited a medical team that specializes in concussions to speak and there will also be extensive video presentations isolating both legal and illegal contact with the head.

Monday's meetings will primarily focus on the data and research the NHL has done, but the majority of the three days of meetings will be spent discussing whether or not it's time the league does something to address head checking as many general managers consider this to be a significant safety concern.

It is possible, if not likely, this group will emerge from Wednesday's final discussions with recommendations on an additional penalty or a tweak to an existing rule to include the 'shoulder to the head' hit as an illegal play.

Currently, shoulder contact with the head is legal.

Any suggested rule changes or amendments to the rule book would have to pass through the NHL/NHLPA's joint competition committee and would require Board approval before being implemented.  However, it is the expectation of some GM's that such rule adjustments will be in place for the 2010-2011 regular season.

In addition to head checking, there are a number of topics proposed by various teams on this week's agenda.

Among the more interesting discussion points:  A proposal for a playoff qualification round. 

The Top 7 in each conference would secure a postseason berth as per usual, but the remaining eight teams on each side would then playoff in a single game elimination in an effort to qualify the final playoff spot. The eighth seed would play the 15th seed, 9 would face 14, 10 vs. 13 and 11 vs. 12 with the winning team from each group claiming eighth in each conference.

It's unlikely this proposal will gain much traction as some executives believe it will de-value the regular season. But this idea will be discussed as part of the meetings break-out group format.

There will also be further consideration given to the proposal of a coach's challenge, whereby an NHL coach can request video review to determine whether or not the play should have been whistled dead before a goal.

Pucks that hit the protective netting above the glass that go unnoticed and lead to a goal will likely be used as an example of where a coach's challenge may best be used.

The NHL's existing tie breaking formula will draw some attention. The number of wins a team has is currently used as the first option to determine postseason seeding. There is come concern that a shootout win has the same value as a regulation win, so once again the points system the NHL uses to reward teams for a victory will be re-opened for debate.

The break-out group sessions will provide a couple of side bar items, but at the moment, all eyes are focused on head checking and determining the right path to address a problem the NHL has chosen to live with for years.

Darren Dreger

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