TORONTO – The five players who sit on the NHL’s competition committee are in favour of a new rule outlawing blindsided hits to the head.
Brian Campbell, Jeff Halpern, Ryan Miller, Mathieu Schneider and Jason Spezza gave their endorsement Wednesday after reviewing a league proposal that gives Colin Campbell the power to hand out supplementary discipline for head hits on unsuspecting players.
“We have deliberated and endorsed to the NHLPA executive board the league’s proposal to implement supplemental discipline this season for blindside hits to the head,” the players said in a statement released by the union. “Our executive board will vote on this recommendation and we will respond back to the league with a decision in the next 24-48 hours.”
That is likely to be the final step in fast-tracking a modified version of the rule that was proposed by general managers at their meetings in Florida two weeks ago.
The league’s board of governors registered its unanimous support of the rule on Tuesday night and deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated the NHL was willing to start enforcing it even if the players didn’t follow suit. With key players now endorsing it, that probably won’t be necessary.
“The league has agreed to wait until (Thursday) before proceeding with implementation,” Daly said in a statement. “Our strong preference remains to proceed on a co-operative basis with the players on this important issue.”
The NHL will have completed 1,095 of 1,230 regular-season games – slightly more than 89 per cent of its schedule – at the conclusion of play Wednesday. However, the supplemental discipline would also apply to playoff games.
It’s expected that a potential on-ice penalty for head shots could be enacted next season after the competition committee sits down together over the summer. That would also give referees the opportunity to get comfortable with the new standard.
In the meantime, players will start facing discipline from Campbell if they deliver checks like the one Mike Richards put on David Booth or the one Matt Cooke delivered to Marc Savard. Both Richards and Cooke avoided suspension.
On Wednesday, several NHL teams showed players a DVD on what types of checks the league wants to see eliminated – primarily ones where the person on the receiving is unaware it’s coming.
A number of players have already voiced their support for the new standard.
“Yeah I am and I think almost everybody, if you ask the players, are in favour of doing something to get these cheapshots and head shots out of the game,” said Toronto Maple Leafs forward Rickard Wallin. “Obviously everybody wants the sport to be physical. Big hits are part of the game. I just feel like it’s a good thing to get something done before somebody gets even more seriously hurt than the guys that have been this year.
“I think that’s enough and the league is doing a good job.”
Added Anaheim Ducks star Teemu Selanne: “Anything that we can do to make this game safer is a key thing. If you make big hits and you get a two-game suspension, I don’t think anybody learns from that. If you give right away 10 games, then you set the example. It’s going to cost you – big time. I think you’re going to think about it twice.”
The hit that really pushed the issue into the spotlight came Oct. 24 when Richards layed out Booth with a hard shoulder to the head.
A severe concussion kept Booth from exercising for two months and saw him miss 45 games in all. The 25-year-old forward is only just regaining his form now, registering his first two-goal game of the season on Tuesday in Toronto, and hopes a new rule will keep other players from experiencing a similar injury.
“It’s tough going through that but if something can be changed because of it, then that’s a positive,” he said. “It could save some other guys’ careers.”