After three days of meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, the National Hockey League's general managers have put forward a recommendation for a rule change to address hits to the head in league games.
The following language was agreed to unanimously by the group:
"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or 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."
"We felt there is a degree of responsibility - moreso to the player receiving the hit - when a guy's coming straight at you. But it's that blindside hit that we find is so disturbing and it's tough to protect yourself in our game, with the speed," said NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell.
"When we changed this game, took the red line out, took the holding and the hooking and everything out of the a game, we increased the speed of this game tenfold. In doing that we also increased the collision force in these hits, but our managers felt that a north-south hit when a shoulder hits the head is acceptable," explained Campbell.
The general managers spoke positively about the recommendation.
"I think it's something that's necessary to make all the players aware that they have to be responsible not only for themselves but for the other players on the ice," said New York Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather. "None of us want to see anyone serious get hurt in this game and this will be a change that will probably support all that."
Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke discussed the guidelines that will be given to on-ice officials to enforce the potential new rules.
"We wanted to give the referees some discretion here where they could assess a two-minute penalty if there is no injury. It's still all reviewable by the league amd people should be aware of that," explained Burke. "Here we wanted the officials to have the discretion to give a deuce or a nickel as we call it, or toss them out. Now the last question would be does that player get ejected from the game? We're going to work on that between now and the meeting in the finals."
The recommendation will be forwarded to the NHL and NHLPA competition committee and then to the NHL Board of Governors for final approval before it is passed.
"It's something that we always thought would take care of itself and players on the ice would take care of situations that maybe shouldn't occur," said New Jersey Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello. "But I think where our game has come and how our game has changed and different situations and different types of players coming about making a living doing certain things that something had to be done and I think what was done today was just fantastic."
"It's a predatory act," added Burke. "If it's a case where this is how a player is making his living, he should be making his living doing something else."
The Players' Association also issued a statement on Wednesday regarding the proposed changes.
"We look forward to receiving and reviewing the General Managers' proposal. Hits to the head, including blindside hits are important issues facing the NHLPA membership. In order to appropriately address these issues, the NHLPA's Competition Committee members will thoroughly review this proposal and gather feedback from the membership prior to the Committee's meeting this summer." said NHLPA spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon in a statement.
The recommendation was applauded by former players.
"Now there's something punishable and players want to know that, what they can and cannot do," NHL executive Brendan Shanahan told THE CANADIAN PRESS. "This is not something the managers and fans have demanded or the media on their own, all you have to do is pick up a newspaper and read the quotes from players today. Players want certain types of hits gone from the game."
While Shanahan was satisfied with the recommendation, readers of TSN.ca did not see the proposed rule change as enough of a deterrent to the players. A poll on the website showed nearly 70% of those polled believed that a minor/major penalty for a hit to the head was not sufficient punishment to deter any future offenders.
There were two other recommendations made by the group.
The first tiebreaker at season's end will be changed to regulation and overtime wins, and not overall wins as is currently the case.
Also, the NHL will request that the American Hockey League to go to a four-man officiating system in 40 per cent of AHL games. The AHL currently uses three-man system for all games. The final decision belongs to the AHL but the NHL is prepared to support it, financially and otherwise.
No recommendations will affect play this season. All recommendations must get the approval of the competition committee and the Board of Governors.