The Second Step
BOCA RATON--The NHL's obvious strategy, to come out swinging against concussions on the first day of the winter general managers meetings, met with some success.
The league got the headlines it craved, creating at least some backspin against the wave of negative publicity that hit the league last week following Zdeno Chara's crushing hit on Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens. Gary Bettman wanted to make an impression, and even his critics would have to concede he did by taking the offensive on the opening day of the meetings rather than waiting until the end, his usual custom.
Now, however, that's put the onus on the GMs to keep the momentum going, no easy task. It's possible they could come up with nothing specific today, but that certainly won't make league headquarters happy. The plan was to strike hard on the first day and then follow up with some kind of rule alternation on the second day. Even if that rule change never comes into being - we all remember the "committment" to rid the league of staged fights, don't we - the public relations value will be there.
By contrast, the last headline the league will want at the end of Tuesday will be "GMs Come Up Empty-Handed."
But what will the GMs come up with, if anything? Charging and boarding, two fouls have gone largely unrefined for the better part of seven decades, are the target. Some progress has been made on the questionable hits that occur in the middle of the ice, but it's the ones that take place along the boards that are often the most destructive. The definition of charging, like the rules governing faceoffs and icing, have become rather elusive, or at least elastic. Nobody seems to really know what boarding is; it's become what they call on a hit from behind when its deemed to be worth only a minor, which is right up there with the dumbest rules in the book.
How can a hit from behind into the boards EVER be worth only two minutes?
So the GMs could work on the wording. Or they could simply say any charging or boarding foul will automatically be five minutes and a game misconduct. More than one, you get a one-game suspension, and the bans double after that.
See, the league pointed to the fact on Monday that 44 per cent of all hits that result in concussion are legal hits. That leads you to the inescapable conclusion that too many hits defined as legal should be re-defined as illegal.
So we'll see what the GMs come up with. You know Bettman is looking over their shoulders.