Changes to Rule 48 send message to players

Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome skates by Bruins forward Nathan Horton after hitting him with a...

Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome skates by Bruins forward Nathan Horton after hitting him with a brutal check during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final in Boston, Mass., June 6, 2011. (ERIC BOLTE/QMI Agency)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:08 PM ET

BOSTON - Either change your ways or pay the price.

That was the message sent to players around the league Monday by the NHL's competition committee, which recommended tweaks to the controversial Rule 48 headshot legislation.

While lawyers were still working on the specific language involved with the modifications, they involve two specific points.

1. The word "blindside" likely will be removed, thereby broadening the scope of hits which will be deemed illegal.

2. A hit will be considered an infraction if the head is targeted AND the head is at the point of contact.

What it does not eliminate, however, is all headshots. If a player has his head down to look at the puck or admire a pass, a solid check will still be considered legit in many instances.

Once all the i's have been dotted and the t's crossed, the revisions, which will be presented to the board of governors for approval June 21 in New York, should allow incoming disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan more leeway with which to make decisions.

In the end, it will mean a change of culture for the players, who will have to learn that a legal hit this season could land them in the sin bin come October.

"They'll find out that you can do the same hit that went unpenalized up to now and end up in the penalty box," said former NHL defenceman Rob Blake, now a member of the NHL's hockey operations department.

The newly rejigged competition committee features NHLPA representatives David Backes, Chris Campoli, Mike Cammalleri, Chris Clark and Ryan Miller; general managers Joe Nieuwendyk, Jim Rutherford, David Poile and Steve Yzerman; and Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider.

Cammalleri said the potential rule modification will make things more "black and white" for players.

"That's the intention," he added. "But no matter what the rule is, you are always going to have borderline hits.

"Brendan has a difficult job but the decision should leave Brendan with more of a black-and-white idea."

Nieuwendyk was encouraged by the way members of both the league and the union seemed to be "on the same page" when it comes to headshots.

"People must realize the game has to be safter," he said. "The number of concussions can not be ignored."

Rule 48 is not the only rule of the game in which players will have to modify their styles or be penalized.

While Aaron Rome's check on Nathan Horton in Game 3 was not a blindside hit, it definitely was late. Nevertheless, Rome said that, because of the speed of the game, he would do the same thing again if given the opportunity.

If he follows up on that vow, he'll get punished. Again.

"I saw the Rome interview," Nieuwendyk said. "I don't think he was trying to come across as being malicious. Not at all.

"At the same time, as fast as the game is, players are going to have to adapt. It's the same for all the parties involved, including us."

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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