The rule change was inspired by a presentation by the "blue-ribbon" panel of Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, former NHL defeseman and current member of NHL hockey operations Rob Blake and Brendan Shanahan, who will take over as the League's chief disciplinarian next season.
Along with Rule 48, there were also recommended tweaks to boarding and charging rules to enhance player safety.
But there was no appetite for a total ban on hits to the head, according to the panel.
With regard to Rule 48, Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said "blindside has been taken out as far as terminology. More focus on anything hit to the head."
The rule currently reads:
"A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted."
Blake said the rule will be "expanded" and that the scope of hits it bans will be "broadened"; but that the final wording of the rule recommendation will be determined after a Monday meeting by the NHL Competition Committee; input from the NHLPA; and final approval by the NHL Board of Governors.
"Maybe expand it a little bit so it's not just blind side hits. Maybe players who are vulnerable. Maybe in different areas of the ice," said Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke on the rule proposal.
"When we sped up the game, we put this rule package in, the game became faster," he said. "Maybe it's too much. Maybe the forwards coming in on the D have too much speed."
Coming up, video with Burke, Murray, Blake and Shanahan talking about this rule change. Again, the specifics were scarce.
The GMs and "blue ribbon" panelists said it will affect rulings on the ice and in supplemental discipline. The emphasis, it seems, will be on players in a "vulnerable" position who didn't put themselves in that position by, say, admiring a pass or skating with their heads down.
If a player in a "defenseless" position takes a hit to the head, it wouldn't matter if it was to the blindside or not. Shanahan said the focus was on head-hits to a player that was "reasonably unsuspecting or reasonably vulnerable."
A hit like Aaron Rome's on Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins, that ended Horton's season in Game 3, would still be covered as an interference penalty.
But what if Horton still had the puck when he was hit? That's where things get murky.
"When we looked at broadening the illegal head hit rule, we don't want to eliminate hitting. You're going to have contact. You're going to have good, full body hits. If you went to a full ban on contact to the head, then those are going to be ruled out," said Blake.
"Obviously, we're expanding to a point where good legal hits are still possible. And I think that's what people want to see."
Here's Bryan Murray on the rules meeting:
Here's Brian Burke, talking about the meeting, Brendan Shanahan and his role in the suspension of Aaron Rome as a consultant to NHL VP Mike Murphy:
Here's Blake on the rules change:
And finally, here's Shanahan on the rules change:
- Brendan Shanahan
- Rob Blake