Headway made on head shots

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:19 PM ET

National Hockey League general managers have made some headway on head shots.

A sub-committee of eight GMs, including Toronto’s Brian Burke, has come up with a proposed penalty rule they hope will discourage a renewed trend of shoulders and elbows levelled at players’ heads.

Marc Savard of the Bruins was the latest high-profile victim, suffering a Grade 2 concussion Sunday when decked by Matt Cooke of the Penguins. Cooke has yet to be suspended by the league, though Pittsburgh doesn’t play again until Thursday.

The eight GMS discussed a new proposal during Tuesday’s second day of meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., and will bring it before the larger group of 30 on Wednesday. If it goes forward, it would then be studied this summer by the NHL competition committee, which includes several players.

Asked if he thinks the league is getting closer to something all parties can live with in a fast-moving contact sport, Burke told the Toronto Sun via e-mail: “I believe we will present a rule change that will help reduce blind-side hits resulting in injury.”

It could be a take on the Canadian Hockey League’s two-minute minor for a check to the head, an effective rule brought in three years ago.

Earlier Tuesday, veteran centre Wayne Primeau of the Leafs, said the matter should be dealt with as soon as possible. The Leafs nearly lost centre John Mitchell on Saturday to a head shot from Ottawa’s Chris Neil, while the debate was re-ignited way back in October when Mike Richards of the Flyers flattened David Booth of Florida.

“Hopefully, the GMs can start something,” Primeau said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but hopefully it’s a start to where we want to go. Any direct contact to the head, it shouldn’t matter if it’s shoulder or elbow, it’s still your head, right?

“You see more and more guys who are absent from games or have to retire. It’s never good, because (the effects) linger (off the ice). We get paid good money for playing a sport, but there has to be a respect factor. I know things get heated, but at the same time, you have to think before you make a play like that.”

It was the blind-side aspect that concerned Primeau in the cases of Cooke and Richards.

“The puck is gone for two or three seconds and it looks like there’s no (deviation), it’s straight across, shoulder or elbow to the head,” Primeau said. “Until the league takes action and starts being more severe with suspensions, it’s going to continue.

“You try for the other guys’s shoulder. Everyone is competitive, but you have to respect a guy if his back is to you. There should be a knee bend (when hitting) and using your shoulder. That’s just my opinion, but I would expect almost everyone feels the same.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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