SUN Hockey Pool

NHL GMs against total ban on headshots

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:26 PM ET

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- There was a nice buffet next to a great view of the Atlantic Ocean's horizon at the Boca Beach Club.

But there was no appetite among NHL general managers for a sweeping ban on contact to players' heads.

They do, however, plan to put more teeth into charging and boarding penalties in an effort to cut down on injuries.

"We want to apply the rules that are in the book more adamantly," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said as the GMs wrapped up the second day of their annual meetings. "Head hits aren't all going to be penalized. Some people outside the game want any contact (penalized) ... it's not really a fair rule to consider given the size of the players and the nature of the game.

"The slamming of players into the boards at times, we just wanted a stronger application of the rule that's there. Obviously, if it's there, for suspensions to be more meaningful, longer, possibly more often."

"The rule in the book is fine. We've just been more reluctant maybe to call it to the letter of the law the way we want to re-emphasize."

The league has given a mandate to its blue-ribbon committee of GMs Joe Nieuwendyk and Steve Yzerman and NHL staffers Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake to come up with the new parameters and deal with the other stakeholders (the competition committee and the players association) with an eye towards having everything in place to be approved at the board of governors' meetings at the draft in June.

With the intense public, media and NHL sponsor outcry about head hits and player safety, brought to a head by the concussion suffered by Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and by the broken neck suffered by Montreal Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty on that hit by Boston's Zdeno Chara last week, there has definitely been a sense of a greater open-mindedness to change among the NHL's decision makers.

Add the outspoken comments from NHL owners in recent days and there has not been quite as much open discord within and outside the ranks of Gary Bettman's NHL in recent memory.

"Sometimes when the public gets so focused on something like that it improves the climate for change," said Shanahan. "This meeting was happening with or without the Chara hit. We didn't just drum up 15 years of evidence and data over the last seven days."

But an automatic penalty for a check to the head?

Forget it.

"There was no support for that in our group and I don't think a blanket ban on a body check that is otherwise legal that results in contact with the head, there's no support for that," said Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke.

"What I believe is so strong coming out of these meetings that there is a clear appetite -- a very strong appetite -- to make the game safer," said Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier. "I really believe we're going in the right direction here."

In addition to stricter enforcement of the charging and boarding rules, it sounds like there will also be a mandate for NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell to start handing out suspensions that will get the players' attention.

"I think we are targeting, through supplementary discipline, if a guy does target the head and it's not an otherwise legal check, now that guy is probably going to get bounced," said Burke.

So, there was a lot talk, most of it good.

It still remains to be seen how much in the way of teeth will be in the tweaking of the rules moving forward from here.


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