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Should the NHL penalize all shots to the head?

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Paul Hoogkamp, TSN.ca
3/26/2010 9:21:23 PM
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When David Booth was knocked out by Mike Richards in October, head shots became a hot topic around the NHL. His latest incident has added another twist to the issue.

Mere hours after the league invoked a new rule to deal with hits to the head, Booth was knocked out of Thursday's game on a 'good hockey hit' by Montreal Canadiens' defenceman Jaroslav Spacek.

Spacek stepped into the oncoming Booth at the Canadiens' blueline and rocked him with a solid bodycheck that saw his shoulder make contact with Booth's head. The collision left the Panthers' forward woozy and on his way to the hospital for observation.

The question is: does the new rule go far enough or should head shots be punished across the board, regardless of intent, location or circumstance?

In international hockey and the Ontario Hockey League, any hit to the head results in an automatic penalty. No grey area.

In the NFL, any hit to the head by the defender are flagged as a personal foul and subject to a fine. No grey area.

The new rule invoked by the NHL on Thursday states that supplementary discipline will be handed down for "a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact."

"We believe this is the right thing to do for the game and for the safety of our players," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. "The elimination of these types of hits should significantly reduce the number of injuries, including concussions, without adversely affecting the level of physicality in the game."

No one can question that Richards' hit on Booth falls under the auspices of the new rule and the same can be said for Matt Cooke's hit on Marc Savard. That's why the rule was drawn up and implemented in short order with the full cooperation of the NHLPA competition committee.

Right now, any violation of the new rule results in supplementary disciplne only, but by next season, an on-ice penalty will likely be added to the rule.

By definition, Thursday's hit would not be deemed an infraction against Spacek. There appeared to be no intent on Spacek's part to target the head and he didn't come at him from the blind side. Nevertheless, his shoulder did come in contact with Booth's head.

"I tried to step up at the blue-line, he was kind of low and when he turned, I was right there," said Spacek after the game. "I'm not a dirty player. It just happened. It was body on body. It's too bad. You never want to see that."

While few would dispute Spacek's claim he is a clean player, should the NHL revise the rule to make it clear to the players that any hit to the head will be penalized, whether it be a minor, major; fine or suspension?

Some would say the current high-sticking rule already follows that method of thinking. Players must be in control of their stick at all times. That means an incidental high-stick is treated the same as intentional contact.

Should an incidental hit to the head, such as Spacek's hit on Booth, result in a minor penalty? In turn should a predatory hit like those delivered by Richards and Cooke be met with a major penalty and supplementary discipline?

Or is this a slippery slope that could lead to the virtual elimination of hitting from the game? Would players become too worried about taking a penalty to lay out a big hit? After all, hockey is a contact sport so, simply put, you have to keep your head up!

Have your say in our Your Call Feature below. 

Shot to the head (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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