November 11, 2009
Today is hits-to-the-head day at the GM meetings in Toronto, as guys like Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford will argue that the players are too big, the game is too fast and the glass is too unyielding; and that the time has come for specific additional penalties for head shots.
No sweeping changes are expected to come from this debate; just the usual chatter from across the usual battle lines. But the Toronto Sun reports that Rutherford and another prominent team executive have a specific provision they want discussed today:
Jim Rutherford of the Hurricanes and Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings are intrigued by the concept of "line of vision," meaning blindside hits -- even those considered legal under today's rules -- would be no-nos.
"Is a player in a vulnerable position or is he not?" Rutherford said. "The referees and the league make those determinations. But clearly some of these are blindsided hits where a player doesn't have a chance to protect himself. ... Maybe the criteria needs to be altered."
This incremental tweaking of the rulebook, rather than a wholesale "ban" on head shots, may end up being more palatable for the League's suits.
Pierre LeBrun of ESPN has more on the GM meetings, but one item in his notebook really caught our attention: The suggestion by Nashville Predators GM David Poile that the use of "UFC-style" tactics in NHL fights needs to be discussed on a League-wide level, and will be on the agenda.
Somewhere, Riley Cote silently weeps.
One agenda item that will be brought up Wednesday, time permitting, is the issue of NHL fighters using UFC-style tactics. The Nashville Predators were upset last season when they felt San Jose Sharks winger Brad Staubitz(notes) used his forearms to punch Jordan Tootoo in a fight. Sharks GM Doug Wilson was upset the Predators complained to the league about it.
"We brought it up with the league that we thought he was hitting him with his forearm," Predators GM David Poile said Tuesday. "Doug doesn't see that, but that's what I saw on the film. I asked the league, is this something we should talk about? I haven't heard a thing about it until now."
Poile's ire stems from this fight back in March:
The Tennessean newspaper looked closely at the rule book, checked with Colin Campbell and found no specific rule that addresses or forbids Staubitz's tactics. Campbell said if a glove can be kept on in a fight, so can an elbow pad.
Preds general manager David Poile said he expects the unorthodox fighting style to be reviewed by both his peers and the league's competition committee.
"We're all aware of the latest rage, which is the (Ultimate Fighting Championship)," Poile said. "In my limited viewing of that, it's all elbows and knees. There's no question that there are players that are probably training under a UFC-type of regimen. ... What's worse: A punch or an elbow? I tend to think based on UFC and what they're doing, and the fact that it's a padded protection area, an elbow can be a whole lot worse."
Poile has a point: This should at least be discussed by the NHL, even if it was an isolated incident.
As the GM said, plenty of hockey fighters are training in MMA during the offseason, and MMA culture is prevalent in NHL locker rooms. This isn't to say a guy Staubitz is going to start using his knees or a chokehold in a fight because he watches UFC; but if there's nothing in the rulebook about it now, there won't be when it actually happens, either.
Last year I saw a fight, somebody was called up for San Jose [ed. note: Brad Staubitz] against Jordin Tootoo(notes), and he was purposely missing with his fist and kept hitting Jordin with his elbow pad on. So that was the closest I have seen to MMA-type striking in the NHL, and it's not good. There's a place for fighting in hockey, but to be throwing elbows, it's just wrong. And Tootoo didn't really know what was going on either, because he was dodging the fist but he was still getting hit. He couldn't figure it out.
It's always a little comical to see Marquess of Queensberry rules applied to hockey fights, where two guys beat the hell of each other in frequently-staged combat to entertain the paying customers. Fists, elbows, forearms ... there's a part of you that thinks "hey, it's a fight, anything goes" as long as lead pipes and Mr. Fuji's magic dust are kept out of the scrap.
That's the problem for the NHL: Changing the rules for something that is already against the rules.
The League loves to toe the line between "fighting is a part of our game" and "fighting is penalized in our game." To start addressing the rules of engagement in a legislative way is to offer a tacit endorsement of its place in the game. That's why any rule regarding fighting, even mandatory helmet use, gets anchored down in discussions.