Tue Mar 23 11:48pm EDT
Hey, you know what we really need in the NHL right now, what with players ending up on stretchers due to blindside headshots that (allegedly) aren't addressed by the current rulebook?
Acrimonious gamesmanship between the owners, the players and League officials. That's what.
On March 10, the NHL's general managers approved the framework and language for a rule that would ban "a lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact." And there was much rejoicing (yea).
On Monday, the NHLPA competition committee announced it was preparing a counterproposal on the rule that would clarify what they felt would be a suitable "band-aid" rule for the rest of the 2009-10 season, until something more substantial could be passed in the offseason. In essence, they agreed to delay any on-ice enforcement of blindside hits with a new rule, but also agreed to opening them up to supplemental discipline from the League. David Shoalts of the Globe & Mail considered this patient approach an "up yours" to the NHL.
If that was an "up yours," proper description of the NHL's fast-tracking of the headshot rule through the Board of Governors on Tuesday night without NHLPA approval would need Joe Biden's rapscallion vernacular.
NHLPA senior spokesman Jonathon Weatherdon said the "the Competition Committee has neither agreed on a proposal, nor forwarded a proposal to the Board of Governors for its vote," and yet the rule is in place if the NHL deems it so. From TSN:
"Our Board can enact rule changes at any time with or without Competition Committee approval," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in response to the NHLPA statement.
"To the extent the Competition Committee has approved the rule change in advance, it is entirely insulated from PA challenge. To the extent it is not a Competition Committee-approved rule, the PA is free to challenge under whatever "theory" they may have available to it. We have been attempting to work through the PA and the Competition Committee for 10 days now on what the League considers to be a very important issue. To the extent we do not receive NHLPA or Competition Committee sign-off or approval, we will consider all available options and make a decision in the best interests of the League and the players."
Daly's statement to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN was much of the same, although it makes Tuesday's NHL BOG action seem more like a kick in the pants to get the process going than a unilateral dismissal of the NHLPA from that process:
"Ultimately, having devoted the better part of two weeks in attempting to engage them in dialogue, if we do not receive a timely answer, we will be forced to make a decision as to how to proceed."
Daly continued: "Without trying to throw anyone under the bus here, let's be real. This is a rule that's intended to make the game safer for the players. Its a no-brainer. The PA needs a hockey person, or at a minimum a player, who is willing to take charge, to step up and make a decision in the best interests of the game.
"It's one thing to 'punt' on all the more mundane issues surrounding the game until the Union has a new Executive Director and a clear direction. We are used to that. But this is different. Someone needs to show leadership, and they need to do it fast."
So what's with the political games? Legitimate concern that the PA will water down the rule or drag its feet until it's too late? Keeping the boot on the NHLPA's throat as they grow closer to naming Donald Fehr as their new imperious leader? Or, as usual, simply pulling rank in a negotiation with the players, as NHLPA backer George Malik of Snapshots suggests in a very comprehensive post:
The NHL's essentially telling the NHLPA that, if they want their players to remain safe on the ice, they'd better get used to the concept that it's the NHL which will call the shots in that regard, especially as some believe that the NHLPA's peeved because its GM's ignored the PA's demand for a full-on ban of all blows to the head a year ago at this time.
So neener neener, we can approve a rule change without you, PA, neener neener, it doesn't matter what you think, we make the rules and you play by them, and if you don't agree we'll blame you for whatever happens, ha ha ha.
It still appears we'll have some sort of temporary fix on blindside hits, probably with NHLPA approval but not necessarily requiring it any longer.
No matter on which side of the labor fence you sit, here's the thing: This blindside hit ban was a joyously uncontroversial moment for players, fans, owners, the League, everyone. Hits to the head, that's a different egg; the blindside stuff ... even the most ardent "it's a hockey play" guys were willing to accept some sort of rule banning them (in effect) from the NHL.
So instead of Kumbaya around the fire (tm, Barry Melrose), we get two sides blowtorching each other. Disappointing, but expected. When these guy get on the same page for the betterment of the game, it'll be the first time it's happened.
Image from BD from the Bettman Portraits gallery.