NHL headed in right direction
CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- It's an interesting question.
Have NHL players been following what's been going on here at the annual general managers meetings?
Given the continued head-hunting and general mayhem on the ice, particularly in the Dallas Stars-San Jose Sharks game Tuesday night, you can make one of two conclusions:
1. They have not been paying attention and have no idea some momentum has been created among the GMs for a modified approach to penalizing head shots and their perpetrators.
2. They have been paying attention and have decided to get in as many brain-scrambling elbows and shoulders as they can before the rules are modified.
The general managers wrapped up their three days of meetings Wednesday and headed out with what, at this point anyway, appears to be a willingness to get tougher on headshots, stricter enforcement of charging and boarding calls and a mandate to league disciplinarian Colin Campbell for longer, more attention-getting suspensions.
"One thing I heard is they want supplemental discipline increased," Campbell said Wednesday.
All of these changes must go through the proper channels, of course. The blue ribbon committee struck here to implement the changes along with the competition committee and the players association will do its work and, hopefully, bring recommendations which can be approved by the board of governors in June.
The developments here over the last three days didn't go far enough for the likes of Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes, who are advocates for a zero-tolerance approach to contact with the head. But they went home satisfied progress worth monitoring has been made.
"We're going to see in time how things go. I think it's a step in the right direction," said Shero. "Certainly I'm a proponent of zero tolerance. Short of that, when we start to tighten up some of the rules we already have -- more aggressive calls, more aggressive suspensions moving forward -- certainly that's a step in the right direction.
"I'm not sure we were going to get (zero tolerance). As I said, the game's evolving and we've got to evolve with it."
Rutherford came here wanting an automatic penalty called for contact with the head.
"Well, that was my thought for a while. But based on what we did here, I'm OK with this," he said. "We may get to that point (of having an automatic penalty), but let's see what this step does now to maybe limit a lot of these hits that we've seen."
The fact is, by the nature of the game, heads are always going to be in danger's way.
A perfect example was the hit by San Jose's Douglas Murray on Dallas's Loui Eriksson. The Stars forward was bent over, reaching for the puck, when Murray came in from the side to check him and caught him with a shoulder in the head.
"You defend standing up, but you attack bent over," was the way NHL vice-president Brendan Shanahan smartly summed it up.
Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke said he believes the stronger enforcement of the rules and longer suspensions will have the desired effect.
"Stiff enough penalties on the ice and off the ice through supplementary discipline do affect player behaviour," he said. "Players are smart and they adapt. You're not ever going to take all the contact out, you're not going to take out suspensions because a player who is playing on the edge is going to cross that edge once in a while.
The fact is, the general managers and the league can amend the enforcement of the rules and increase suspensions, but if the players aren't willing to pay attention, it will all be for naught.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier spoke often the last few days about moving the line of what is acceptable.
It will be interesting to see over the next year where that line comes to rest and, more importantly, what is the resulting effect.