Don Cherry believes the proposed rule to penalize blindside hits to the head can succeed if infractions are punished with a major penalty.
Speaking after a Paralympic luncheon in Vancouver on Wednesday, the Hockey Night in Canada personality and former Bruins coach feels the threat of leaving a team shorthanded for five minutes is the best way to change players’ behaviour.
“A major will (work),” Cherry said. “When you get a five-minute major, you’re going to think. You can fine them all you want. So what, the guys peel off money. The major, that’s one thing you don’t want to get because you’re going to be five minutes short.
“I know if I was a coach I would be really ticked. … The two-minute minor, that’s nothing.”
The proposed penalty, still subject to approval from the NHL’s competition committee, was agreed on by the league’s general managers in Boca Raton, Fla., during their annual meetings.
The new rule, which could take effect next season, follows an ugly incident Sunday in which Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke caught Boston’s Marc Savard with a shoulder to the head.
Savard is out indefinitely.
The incident was similar to several others earlier this season, including one in which Flyers captain Mike Richards levelled Florida’s David Booth.
Cherry said the Cooke and Richards hits are “what they have to get out … blindsiding. We call that in hockey cheap shots.”
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf agreed with that sentiment and feels the NHL did the right thing in acting.
“Those hits to the head, there’s no place in the game for them,” he said after practice in Toronto. “All that comes out from them is guys get hurt, it’s not something you like. The blindside hits, there had to be something done about it.”
Phaneuf plays a physical game but isn’t worried that he’ll have to alter his style to avoid ending up in the box.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “The hit that you saw that raised this issue again (Cooke’s) was something you don’t want to see in the game.
“I don’t think this is going to have any bearing on contact. It’s going to have something to say about what just happened, those types of hits aren’t going to be tolerated anymore and it’s good for the game.”
Several players said there was a difference between catching an opponent with their head down, and hitting them when they were vulnerable and had no chance of avoiding the contact.
They’re OK with the former, it’s the latter that they felt needed regulation.
“I believe if you take a shoulder to the head and it’s just the head – you don’t even get the body or anything – I would think that’s dirty,” Flames defenceman Ian White said in Calgary. “But if some guy’s skating around with his head down and you’re going straight at him and you maybe knock his head before you get his chest, I think that would be more acceptable.”
Flames centre Matt Stajan, a player who’s taken his share of headshots in recent seasons, agreed.
“Obviously there’s going to be clean hits that sometimes catch a guy off guard,” he said. “It’s more of the blind headshots that where as a player you don’t see a guy coming and he catches your head, I think those are the ones that need to be taken a look at and maybe there should definitely be penalties and suspensions.”
Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn feels that players need to know when to ease off a little bit when hitting an opponent.
“A guy cutting across the ice, that’s different than a guy reaching for the puck and you just clip him by the head,” said Schenn. “A guy cutting through the middle with his head down … you definitely don’t want to let up physically but if a guy’s in a vulnerable position you can probably let up.”
“The onus is on the player to have the respect for the other player and if he’s in a vulnerable position, you’ve got to let off,” he said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Cherry, repeating an oft-stated viewpoint, said a new rule wouldn’t be necessary if the rule giving a instigator a two-minute minor didn’t exist.
“Back in the 1970s, if a guy did that, he wouldn’t finish in the game,” said Cherry. “Can you imagine in your wildest dreams somebody doing that to (Wayne) Gretzky when (Marty) McSorley and (Dave) Semenko was on the club? It would never happen because we didn’t have the instigator rule like they have now . . . It’s not lack of respect, it’s lack of fear. …
“If you ever did it with my team, you wouldn’t finish the game.”
With files from Laurence Heinen in Calgary