Please raise your hand if you are surprised the NHL’s attempt to institute a mid-season head shot rule has become a colossal mess.
On the one hand, you have a league that paid lip service to curbing head shots, but in reality had no appetite for change until it began getting hammered for doing nothing while players were increasingly being carted off on stretchers after being on the end of perfectly legal hits. On the other hand, you have an NHL Players’ Association that has been clamoring for the league to do something for years on this issue and now that it has, is dithering with the process in the name of “tweaking” and providing “band-aid solutions.”
Well, a pox on both their houses. If they can’t somehow set their differences aside for the good of the game and its players, then they really have been feeding us a line of garbage.
The NHL could have avoided all of this if it had simply listened to former executive director Paul Kelly and NHLPA executive Glenn Healy before both were kicked to the curb by their own membership. (While we’re at it with the PA, let’s get this straight: They fire Bob Goodenow because he was too militant and they felt they couldn’t get a CBA done with him directing their affairs. Then, after the Ted Saskin debacle, they hire Kelly, only to fire him because he prefers conciliation over confrontation. Now they’re trying to replace him with Donald Fehr, arguably the most militant union leader in sports history. Nice work.)
But now, largely because the NHL didn’t heed the advice of the NHLPA, it is trying to fast track the new legislation through and is threatening to do so even without the approval of the NHLPA, which carries the balance of power on the league’s competition committee.
There seems to be this notion that under the CBA, any rule change would have to be approved by the competition committee before going to the board of governors, which has already voted 30-0 in favor of banning blind-side head shots.
But unless I’m looking in the wrong places, nowhere does it specifically say rule changes must be approved by the competition committee. Article 22 of the CBA spells out the function of the competition committee and says, “The issues to be considered by the Competition Committee will include: (1) the development, change and enforcement of playing rules…” among other things. And while it spells out how much support from the board of governors is needed for a suggested rule change from the competition committee, nowhere does it say the league cannot change a rule without the committee’s approval.
Article 30 of the CBA is a little clearer, but not much. It says, “The NHL and its clubs shall not…amend or modify the provisions (or portions thereof) of the league rules or any of the league’s playing rules…which affect terms or conditions of employment of any player without the prior written consent of the NHLPA, which shall not be unreasonably withheld.”
Glad we got that cleared up. So, the question becomes, does a blind-side head shot rule affect “the terms and conditions” of any player? The league will argue no, while the NHLPA will likely argue it does.
That’s because if the league is given carte blanche to impose supplementary discipline on a player who is guilty of a blind-side head shot, that player will be out a substantial amount of money. And regardless of what the NHLPA will say on this matter, the ability of a player to make as much money as possible trumps every other issue, including the safety and welfare of the players who are the victims of the indiscretions.
So, we have a nice little power struggle going here, don’t we? Nobody should be surprised. But everyone involved should be ashamed.
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 will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.