PITTSBURGH – The GMs have made it clear they want no part of instituting a penalty for headshots, but NHL Players’ Association leader Paul Kelly said the issue is hardly a dead one.
“The general managers are just half of the equation,” Kelly told THN.com after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. “It’s not over and it shouldn’t be over. I think we have an obligation to carry the discussion forward and we will. It’s definitely not over. The competition committee believes it’s one of the priority items to be discussed.”
In fact, Kelly was more than a little perturbed at the attitude of the GMs toward headshots. He said that a poll of 730 players indicated 70 percent of them want something done to curb headshots, a majority the GMs appear to have ignored despite all the talk of this partnership between the league and its players in the post-lockout era.
“Frankly I’m surprised that the GMs don’t feel a greater obligation to protect their players,” Kelly said. “My view is I’m disappointed, but it is going to get raised again in the competition committee.”
Earlier in the day, the 30 GMs rejected the possibility of adopting a headshot rule such as the one currently in the Ontario League that calls for a minor or major penalty or a game misconduct, at the discretion of the referee, for any check to an opponent’s head. Any deliberate attempt to injure with a headshot calls for a match penalty.
“There’s no appetite for a rule change on that,” said Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. “I know the players seem to think it’s important and you hear Paul Kelly talk about it, but in our room? No appetite.”
Kelly shot back: “I know not all GMs share Burkie’s view of the world. And there are a number, frankly, who view this issue the same way the players do, which is that something needs to be done to better protect the players.”
One of the prevailing thoughts is that if headshots – whether they’re intentional or not – are penalized, it will lead to a decrease in physicality in the game, something Kelly vehemently disputes. He said the players want to eliminate the hits where a player is in a vulnerable position and he is hit in the head either intentionally or recklessly – and there’s a clear distinction between the two – by an opponent.
“I think that’s the fundamental misunderstanding,” Kelly said. “Some of them (the GMs) genuinely believe we’re trying to take the physical quality out of the game and we’re not. Honestly, we’re trying to keep the right balance by keeping physicality in the game and protecting players. I don’t think it’s enough to just say, ‘Keep your head up.’ You’re blaming the victim in that situation.”
Kelly used the hit from the Western Conference final by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall on Martin Havlat of the Chicago Blackhawks as a perfect example. According to the NHL’s rules, it’s a perfectly legal hit, but that doesn’t mean it should be.
“Kronwall could have accomplished the same thing by driving his shoulder or hip into the body of Havlat,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t have to go at his head. And the supplementary discipline system simply has proven that it’s not sufficient to deter this conduct.”
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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