GMs take step toward upgrading headshot rule

NHL executive Mike Murphy speaks to the media about Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome's suspension in...

NHL executive Mike Murphy speaks to the media about Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome's suspension in Boston, Mass., June 7, 2011. (ERIC BOLTE/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:10 PM ET

BOSTON - This has been an eventful Stanley Cup final.

And we're not even talking about what has been happening on the ice.

The suspension to Vancouver defenceman Aaron Rome for his late hit on Boston forward Nathan Horton galvanized Canucks and Bruins supporters -- with the Canucks supporters pretty much alone on one side of the room and Bruins fans and the rest of the hockey world on the other.

The severity of the four-game suspension handed out by NHL vice-president Mike Murphy -- he's in charge because senior NHL VP Colin Campbell's son, Gregory, plays for the Bruins -- indicates the league is serious about escalating the penalties for on-ice transgressions. It was the longest suspension ever handed out for an incident that occurred during the final. The three previous suspensions were all for just one game.

Since the general managers meetings in March in Florida, when stiffer suspensions were first discussed, there has been momentum for a stronger statement on headshots. The Rome decision indicates the league isn't waiting until next year, when Brendan Shanahan takes over as the league's new safety czar.

At the general managers gathering at a Boston hotel Wednesday afternoon, the GMs continued to prepare the ground for a changing landscape when it comes to headshots and their punishment. The GMs decided to recommend to the competition committee that the criteria for punishment under Rule 48 -- the headshot rule -- be broadened. They have recommended the word "blindside" be dropped from the rule -- "a lateral or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted."

If the tweak is accepted by the competition committee and forwarded to the board of governors for final approval, it means all lateral hits could be subject to supplemental discipline.

It's another step in the right direction, widening the net to catch more perpetrators.

Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli called the rule change "a significant upgrade." (Chiarelli, by the way, texted with Horton's wife, Tammy, who said Horton was resting comfortably and his headaches were lessening. Vancouver GM Mike Gillis pulled Chiarelli aside at the meeting and said Rome wanted the Bruins to know he was sorry for the hit and would reach out to Horton.)

As the Stanley Cup final has shown, this era of NHL hockey is the fastest and most dangerous that has been played between the whistles.

OK, it's even dangerous after the whistles if your fingers were anywhere near the mouth of Canucks winger Alex Burrows.

The game might have been more dangerous during the 1960s and '70s, when stick-swinging and other malicious acts were more common but escaped scrutiny because there were many games that weren't even televised.

Player safety will be a big talking point through the draft.

But it is significant to note the general managers are loathe to introduce any new legislation that would completely ban any contact with the head. The GMs have a self-imposed tough job: Keeping the physical nature of the game intact while improving player safety and cutting down on the number of concussions.

They keep whittling away at what is acceptable.

The line that cannot be crossed without repercussions moved significantly as a result of the GMs' discussions Wednesday.

The consequences for crossing the line went up significantly with Murphy's suspension Tuesday of Rome.

What is going to be interesting now, given there are only two teams still on the ice, is if the other players scattered around the globe were paying attention and got the message.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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