Players accept 'band-aid' solution to headshots

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

So, March Madness, NHL-version, continues.

Who did you have in your bracket, owner power play or player dithering?

It seemed to be a slam-dunk that a new rule on headshots could be easily formulated and implemented by two parties interested in protecting the best interests of the NHL’s most important assets, its players.

But, as with everything that comes up that must be negotiated between NHL owners and players in the NHL, this has deteriorated into another “my stick is bigger than your stick” skit.

We shouldn’t expect anything different, I suppose, given the track record.

But there was this small sliver of hope coming out of the lockout, with the owners and players now “partners,” that there could be some cooperation on non-revenue issues to make the game a better product.

It looks like there will be a rule in place, perhaps as early as for Thursday night’s games, after the players on the competition committee late Wednesday approved the league’s proposal for supplemental discipline for blindside hits to the head.

It needs to be approved in a vote of the NHLPA’s executive board, which the players said they hoped to do by Friday at the latest.

The league wants to be able to suspend players like Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke for the type of predatory hit he put on Boston’s Marc Savard, which left the Bruin with a Grade 2 concussion.

After getting the owner’s proposal to make such hits subject to supplementary discipline as soon as possible last week, the players were willing to accept a “band-aid solution,” as Senators centre Jason Spezza, a member of the competition committee, put it, but wanted to be able to revisit the issue in the summer. In their statement Wednesday, the players said they are endorsing it “for this season.”

When the league hadn’t heard back from the players by Tuesday, the board of governors went ahead and unilaterally approved their version of the rule.

Players interviewed by the QMI Agency are seething over the owners’ actions Tuesday night.

“It would appear they’re just trying to antagonize us,” said one player. “We want a rule. We tried to get a rule in last year, but (the league) didn’t want it. Now we just want to make sure this is done right.”

The NHLPA issued a statement saying there can’t be a new rule without their blessing, but NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league’s position is it can enact a rule change with or without the competition committee’s approval.

As near as I can understand it, if the competition committee approves a rule change, there cannot be any NHLPA challenges.

The league appeared willing to enact the rule and have it in place for the playoffs and if the players wanted to launch a grievance, have at it because it probably wouldn’t be heard until next year’s playoffs. In the meantime, the league could suspend players for blindside hits where the head is targeted.

Daly ramped up the dialogue by calling into question the usefulness of even having a competition committee - it’s made up of representatives from the league and five players - and that its existence should be revisited in the next round of collective bargaining.

That is what’s really interesting moving forward here. The players are looking for a new executive director for their association right now.

After this looming power play by the owners, one player told the QMI Agency he wants a hawk for the job, somebody who’s going to stick it right back to the owners.

That shouldn’t make anybody feel good about what awaits with the expiration of this CBA, which could come as early as Sept. 15 of next year.


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