by PuckStopsHere on 03/11/10 at 01:48 PM ET
The major topic of discussion at the recent NHL general managers meeting was hits to the head. After several presentations and proposals, it was decided that headshots are a problem in the league. The following words were unanimously approved by the group:
A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.
That two line statement is the most reported achievement of a three day meeting. It seems a little underwhelming. This two line statement must get approval from the NHL Board of Governors and from the NHL Competition Committee before it becomes law in the league. At best this could happen by the beginning of next season.
In the meantime we see another case study in why headshots are a problem in the NHL. On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins met the Boston Bruins. Pittsburgh won the game 2-1. The major story from, the game was a headshot by Pittsburgh`s Matt Cooke late in the third period of the game. Cooke had a blindside hit on Marc Savard. Cooke appeared to hit Savard in the head with his elbow. Savard was taken off the ice on a stretcher. He has a concussion and will likely not play another game this season. This is a devastating blow for the Boston Bruins, who currently hold down the eighth and final playoff seed in the East Conference. Savard has the highest points per game on the low scoring Bruins (but has earlier missed time to injury limiting him to 33 points in 41 games). The loss of Savard could easily cost the Bruins a playoff berth.
In his infinite wisdom, Colin Campbell, the NHL`s senior vice president and director of hockey operations, who is in charge of handing out suspensions decided not to suspend Matt Cooke for the hit. Matt Cooke is a repeat offender. He had a two game suspension for a questionable (and similar) hit on Artem Anisimov of the New York Rangers earlier this year. It was argued that Matt Cooke did not break any existing rules with his hit. In other words, without the two line statement by the general managers it is legal to hit somebody in the head with your elbow from the side when they do not see you. This is apparently not an attempt to injure.
The precedent seems to be a Mike Richards hit on David Booth that kept Booth out for 45 games with a concussion. Richards was not suspended either. It seems that a poor call a previous suspension is used to argue that other players who have similar hits should not be suspended either.
What difference does it make to the situation if a rule change as suggested by the general managers comes into place? It looks like Cooke might have got 2 minutes in penalties for the hit. Possibly even five minutes. The possibility of supplemental discipline already exists, but Colin Campbell decided that even in the case of a repeat offender this hit is not worthy of it.
The problem of hits to the head in the NHL is a serious one. Players who get blindsided with a hit to the head often suffer concussions that keep them out for significant portions of the season. It appears that despite a short statement from the general managers meeting, there will be no major change to this problem. Player`s safety is not as important as keeping blindside hits in the game. If Matt Cooke can be a repeat offender and not receive a suspension when the topic is clearly in the media and the hit affects the playoff picture in a serious way, can we expect suspensions in the future? Does a new rule mean that Matt Cooke would get a two minute penalty for his efforts in the future? If so it is far too insignificant a penalty to prevent anything.
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