Reaction across the NHL was mixed Tuesday after general managers announced they’d like to see tighter enforcement of current rules to help curb concussions across the league.
The GMs stopped short of recommending a ban on hits to the head, but the group seems to be moving forward with an emphasis on stricter enforcement of both boarding and charging.
While some NHLers welcomed the change, others were skeptical it will make a difference.
“A lot of (the boarding and charging) is leading to the head shots—hitting guys in vulnerable positions,” Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said after practice Tuesday. “Guys aren’t expecting it. I think they’re encouraging guys to go in shoulder on shoulder and not throw the hit into the guy’s helmet. So I’m sure those penalties will help that.”
Vancouver teammate Dan Hamuis suffered a concussion early this season and missed five games.
“With the league being stiffer on those penalties, guys will be a little more tentative taking big runs at guys to, more or less, cause injury,” he said.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan says the fact that the league is getting doctors involved means the players should take concussions seriously.
Still, hits to the head will always be a part of the game, he added.
“It’s going to be impossible to eliminate (hits to the head). There’s no way. Unless you make the game so you can’t hit anybody. Then you’re going to end up watching rec hockey and that’s not what people like to see,” Doan said as the Coyotes prepared to face Calgary on Tuesday night. “That’s the way the game is.”
“We understand they have to take care of us, but at the same time, we choose to go out there and get hit and hit people. You understand it’s just the way it is.”
The NHL says 44 per cent of the concussions suffered this season prior to March 1 were caused by legal hits.
On top of addition to the stricter penalties for charging and boarding, the GMs want longer suspensions for illegal hits to the head, particularly for repeat offenders.
“If guys get long suspensions, then they have to think twice about what they’re doing out there,” Canucks forward Mikael Samuelsson said. “I know, for some guys, it’s their job to hit guys. But you’ve got to have respect for the guys you play against.”
After the meetings wrap up Wednesday in Boca Raton, Fla., the league’s competition committee will examine the official proposal. That group and the league’s board of governors must grant approval.
Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau raised some eyebrows earlier Tuesday with his thoughts on hitting and concussions.
“If you don’t like it, don’t come to games. I think the players realize they could get hurt,” Boudreau told reporters in Montreal. “They don’t want to do it, but unless you’ve played and seen what goes on with the speed of the game you’re not going to be able to argue with it.”
His superstar agreed.
“Hockey is a physical game,” Alex Ovechkin said. “Sometimes you don’t want to make dirty hits but it happens—when you go to hit a guy he moves and you can’t stop.
“Of course, everybody wants to be healthy but in hockey, there’s always going to be injuries. You can’t do nothing about it.”