Headshots hijack NHL agenda

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:58 PM ET

BOSTON - Matt Cooke, the guy who brought the headshots issue to, well, a head, is expected to be in Boston Thursday night and the villagers have gathered at the castle with their pitchforks and flaming torches.

The issue of headshots has completely hijacked the NHL agenda.

Whatever bounce the NHL was supposedly going to get from the outstanding show at the Olympics has been exiled to a darkened room, flattened like a victim of a shoulder to the head. When the blinds will be opened and light shone on what’s good in the game (is there a better story than the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes ripping it up?) remains anybody’s guess.

Thursday night’s meeting between the Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first since Cooke decimated B’s star Marc Savard with a despicable shoulder to the head, will draw the eyes of fans and the league.

Colin Campbell, the NHL’s vice-president of hockey operations and Lord of Discipline, will be “sitting on the Boston bench” Thursday night, he joked Wednesday. He’ll be here flying the NHL flag and warning all participants of the severe penalties that await any and all potential miscreants who might want to make Cooke pay for his brutal hit, though the B’s have been painted as wimps by some for not immediately avenging the hit.

In light of what happened -- and is still yet to happen -- when frontier justice was meted out in the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, it’s foolish to think there will be anything close to a repeat when Cooke faces the Bruins Thursday night.

Cooke’s hit on Savard March 7 -- coming on the day the league’s general managers were convening in Florida to discuss headshots -- galvanized the debate on predatory headshots and led to the GMs drafting a new rule to make such hits illegal and subject to suspension. Cooke did not receive a penalty, never mind a suspension, for the hit since technically he did not break a rule.

In the meantime, the league is trying to railroad through the new rule, but one influential player told the QMI Agency he is not in favour of introducing a change part way through a season, so the league could have a fight on its hands.

The player said the competition committee, composed of five players, has serious reservations. The players need to give their approval for the rule to be enacted.

“I don’t like the idea of changing the rules part way through a season, changing the playing field this close to the playoffs,” said the player. “Is everybody going to be able to adjust to this that quickly? We don’t even have all the information yet. I haven’t seen an official draft of the rule and everybody seems to think we’re just going to rubber stamp it. Right now, at this moment, I can’t speak for (the competition committee), but I would say, ‘Wait until next year.’”

Campbell told NHL Home Ice radio Wednesday he couldn’t recall a new rule being implemented in season during his tenure. He said the new rule covering headshots would allow for supplementary discipline, but would not lead to new penalties during the course of a game.

“I don’t anticipate doing anything with a penalty call on the ice right now. I think that would be a difficult thing to consistently administer at this point in time,” said Campbell. “That’s not our issue. Our issue probably is making sure that some of the hits we’ve experienced can be dealt with from the supplemental discipline aspect. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish at the moment.”

So a hit like Cooke’s won’t be a penalty during the game, but it will be subject to a suspension?

For real?

Maybe the NHL needs to give its head a shake.


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