NHL GMs to stand pat
Don't expect much at meetings
CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
|Max Pacioretty suffered a concussion and a broken neck when he was hit into a stanchion at the Bell Centre in Montreal last Tuesday. (QMI Agency/Eric Bolte)
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The palm fronds were rustling gently in a nice breeze here Sunday afternoon under spectacularly sunny skies.
Anybody expecting the winds of change to blow hard for the NHL over the next three days as the league's general managers gather to discuss the state of the game will likely be disappointed.
While the significant Rule 48 -- penalizing blindside hits to the head -- came out of these meetings a year ago, the feeling heading into these meetings from GMs, league sources and other QMI Agency contacts is the NHL is loathe to have a knee-jerk reaction to recent controversial injuries sustained by players like Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Montreal Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty.
Crosby has been out since Jan. 6 with a concussion -- with it looking more and more like he will not return this season -- after a hit from Washington Capitals forward David Steckel in the Winter Classic that was ruled incidental contact.
Pacioretty suffered a concussion and a broken neck when he was hit into a stanchion at the Bell Centre in Montreal Tuesday by Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara. Though he was given a major penalty for interference, Chara was not suspended causing howls of outrage and drawing criticism of the NHL from both within and outside the league.
While the next three days will likely see serious and wide-ranging discussion of player safety, focusing on hits to the head, don't expect a penalty -- say one that bans any contact with the head, like they have in international and junior hockey -- to come out of these meetings.
There just doesn't seem to be any traction for that kind of penalty, based on converstations with various league sources.
While Canadiens owner Geoff Molson tasked Habs GM Pierre Gauthier with bringing up the Pacioretty hit, it will likely only be discussed in terms of rink safety.
It's expected the GMs -- who start the ball rolling on rule changes which are then passed on to the competition committee and finally to the board of governors for approval -- will be given a presentation Monday on how Rule 48 is working. There will likely be discussion about a coach's challenge, modifying the icing rule, softening up equipment and whether or not the red line should be re-introduced to slow what many feel has become literally the break-neck speed of the game.
"It's easy to say 'the league needs to do x, y and z on concussions' (but) it's not that simple," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters at the all-star game in Raleigh last month. "Changing a rule which doesn't address what's actually causing the concussions may not be the right thing to do, changing equipment may not necessarily be the right thing to do.
"We spend a lot of effort on this subject, we know it's important."
There's a lot of different opinions out there on how to make the game safer.
"The game is really fast and the guys who are hitting right now ... there's a rule for charging," said New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire. "How many penalties for charging are called? Almost never. Charging, the old days, they said was three strides. Now it's 20 strides, you know? It's in the rule book. It's like hooking. It's always been there, but they let it go, they let it go, they let it go. Now the hooking comes in and we have to find another rule to stop it.
"You see it when the guys start from the red line and he goes in, just aiming for one guy and then he goes and hits him. This is how a guy gets hurt. If I start here and I'm chasing a guy over there, that's charging."
Lemaire said he didn't think putting the red line back into play for two-line passes would make the game safer.
"You will slow it down, but it won't correct what we're talking about because the guys are fast, they're big and they're strong." He noted in his day there weren't many big guys like in the game today, maybe one or two a team.
"Larry," said Lemaire, of Larry Robinson whom he played with on Montreal Canadiens (and is now an assistant coach with the Devils). "Now they're all like that. The thing is, the (Pierre) Bouchard and the (Gilles) Lupien who were big in those days, you got them with speed now. That's the difference."
So, there will be talk.
How much action?