Headshot debate a hot topic

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

In the words of Brian Burke Wednesday: “It’s not ringette, it’s hockey.”

True. But Burke, like many of his peers, has come to understand that, while the hitting he so loves is a vital part of the sport, blindside headshots are not.

As a result, with one-time hardliners such as Burke shifting their respective stances somewhat, NHL general managers left Toronto Wednesday virtually agreeing that a rule change involving head shots likely is inevitable.

Indicating that Burke led the anti-head shot discussion on the issue during the final day of the two-day GMs meetings, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said he would not be surprised if such an alteration is in place by the beginning of the 2010-11 season.

“Some of the guys who have taken a strong position that it might take hitting out of the game, have adjusted their views a little bit,” Rutherford said. “If we continue what was talked about today then we will see a change.”

A committee likely will be formed that will examine the situation in time for the GM’s annual meeting in March. If a change is recommended, it might be forwarded to the league’s competition committee for approval

The headshot debate, a hot topic in recent weeks thanks to injuries to players like David Booth and Chris Drury, had the GMs pretty much agreeing on one thing: Blindside hits are dangerous and must be examined.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ Mike Richards was not suspended for laying out an unsuspecting Booth, a shoulder-to-head blow that is considered legal. For now.

Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero said “that if that was my son I wouldn’t want that to be the way he was hit.”

“A player should have the ability to anticipate a hit, prepare for a hit or avoid a hit,” Burke said. “If he doesn’t have those, then I think the onus has to shift to the hitter. He’s got to deliver a safe hit.”

At the same time this is not, as Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey pointed out, a black-and-white issue.

“We saw a statistic that last year there were 750 man-games missed because of concussions,” Gainey said. “Someone else put that into perspective in that there are actually some 40,000 man-games played and we lost just over 700. So that comes down to a percent of just over one.

“Those are different ways of looking at the same numbers.”

No one said it was going to be easy.

Nice lids

Burke will make available to Toronto Marlie players a new, more protective type of helmet, called the M-11, being endorsed by Hall of Famer Mark Messier, who showed off the head gear to the GMs yesterday.

“It’s an effort to keep all our players safer,” Messier said.

Burke was impressed by the way the helmet absorbs impact.

“Its up to (the Marlie players),” Burke said of how many would wear them. “I’m going to suggest they try them when we get some in with our colours.”

Maple Leafs Garnet Exelby wears one and, according to Burke, endorses it.

Cross checks

Commissioner Gary Bettman and right-hand man Bill Daly were scheduled to meet with Kontinental Hockey League president Alexander Medvedev in Washington last night to discuss the controversial movement of players between the KHL and NHL. Daly was not optimistic of a resolution ... Daly provided an update on the three long-term contracts (Chris Pronger, Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa) being investigated by the league. Daly warned the GMs of the dangers of such deals, especially if the player involved is not expected to play out the duration ... Burke’s Team USA Olympic hierarchy has agreed on 15-20 candidates to make the team, leaving three to eight spots open. One player who has played his way into the conversation: Colorado goalie Craig Anderson.


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