BOSTON – The NHL is looking to crack down further on hits to the head next season.
General managers drafted an amendment to rule 48 during a meeting at the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday that would give referees more leeway in assessing a penalty for hits to the head. As it currently stands, the rule only covers those that come from the blindside.
The competition committee—comprised of five players, four GMs and Flyers owner Ed Snider—will discuss the proposed change when it meets on June 13. If that group signs off on it, the league’s board of governors could put it into effect for next season.
“It’s still going to be a tough call—and it is on the ice—but it’s going to be a minor penalty, at least what we’re proposing,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “That opens the door for supplemental discipline also. It could be a major penalty, but it’s going to start with a minor.”
The issue of head hits has been widely discussed over the past few years and helped lead to the creation of rule 48 prior to this season. The GMs discussed banning all hits to the head during their annual meetings in March, but aren’t prepared to go that far at this point.
“If you go to that rule, you’re going to take hitting right out of the game,” said Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke.
The exact wording of the proposed change wasn’t provided to the media because it could be reworked by the competition committee next week.
The recommendation was drafted after a presentation from the NHL’s blue-ribbon committee, which has studied the issue at length. Steve Yzerman, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake suggested broadening the rule and the GMs concurred with their conclusion.
“Based on a lot of the reports that we get year in and year out about the rise in concussions and the rise in man games lost to injury because of that, it’s something that you can’t ignore,” said Nieuwendyk, the Dallas Stars GM. “We’re taking steps towards making that better.”
A number of high-profile incidents over the past two seasons have made hits to the head and concussions the No. 1 topic of conversation when the managers meet. Even if rule 48 is expanded, the discussion around the issue will likely continue.
“The tightrope we walk is this is a full-contact sport,” said Burke. “It’s been a full-contract sport since we opened our doors for business. It’s one of the distinctive features of what we do. We don’t want to change that.
“We want to eliminate the really dangerous parts of play, but this is a game where you’re going to get hit and there’s going to be injuries.”