A Change in Attitude . . . But Not Completely
NHL players are demanding tough new rules on head shots.
Well, sort of.
NHL Players Association boss Paul Kelly told NHL general managers at their meetings today that 75 per cent of players want new rules imposed on reckless, intentional blows to the head.
But the union stopped short of calling for a crackdown on all hits to the head, such as in the Ontario Hockey League where all blows to the head regardless of intent are penalized.
“Hits to the head are the most significant concern on the part of the players,” said Kelly. “I would say better than three-quarters of the players believe we need to have a new rule on hits to the head that protect players.
“We’re not looking at all hits to the head. There are accidental and inadvertent hits that don’t cause a great deal of injury. You do have situations where you have large players hitting smaller players and they are going to make contact with the head.
“But we are talking about the unsuspecting player, the guy that’s in a vulnerable position who gets hit by a player who either intentionally or recklessly targets the head of that player. And whether he strikes him with his shoulder or some other body part it’s the view of the players that those types of hits need to be eliminated from the game.
|Witt suspended five games for his Feb. 26 hit on Hagman.|
“It’s a pure safety issue.”
It sounds like a drastic change, except that the league is already clamping down on those types of “intentional” hits to the head with heavier suspensions. Two weeks ago, Islander defenceman Brendan Witt received a five-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Maple Leaf forward Niklas Hagman.
Kelly said the rule the players advocated would be similar to the current hits-from-behind rule and would give officials room to assess a minor, major or match penalty.
“Right now you can blind-side a guy, see him coming through the neutral zone looking away to catch or receive a pass and you can drop your shoulder straight into his head. It’s a perfectly legal and appropriate hit. We don’t think that’s correct. We think that’s a serious safety issue,” said Kelly.
“That’s the type of hit we want to see eliminated from the game and you can’t do it simply by preaching respect to the players. You’ve got to put more teeth into it. You’ve got to deter this type of conduct.”
Several seasons ago, Chris Neil of the Senators nailed Chris Drury of the Sabres with that type of open-ice hit and wasn’t even penalized, so presumably that type of incident would fall under the new rule proposed by the union.
|REUTERS FILE PHOTO|
|Few will forget the aftermath of Stevens vs. Lindros.|
But the devastating hit by Scott Stevens in the 2000 playoffs on Eric Lindros – a crushing shoulder hit to the hit when Lindros was caught with his head down – would probably still be allowed according to the union’s proposal. It would be up to the referees to determine if the player delivering the hit was intentionally targeting the head of his opponent, an awfully tough judgement to make in many circumstances.
NHL history shows that when such judgement-type rules are put in place, they generally aren’t enforced in all but the most obvious situations. But when the league eliminated hooking from the game in 2005, it did so by making it a “no tolerance” rule.
Interestingly, while NHLers seem to understand that hits to the head can cause irreparable damage, they seemingly make no connection between those and the violent punches to the head featured in each and every hockey fight.
Instead, according to Kelly, players like fighting at the levels it is now.
“Players believe that fighting plays an important role in the sport,” said Kelly. “Players believe that fighting to a large degree does cut down on the violence in the sport. They believe it cuts down on stickwork and other play. It protects the star players and the smaller players.”
Kelly also said players support playing in the Olympics beyond 2010 in Vancouver
“Players strongly support continued Olympic participation after Vancouver ,” said Kelly. “They believe it’s good for the game. They understand the issues of the owners, but they think it’s a positive.”