March 10, 2010
Pending a rubber stamp from the competition committee and the Board of Governors, the Mike Richards(notes) hit on David Booth(notes) will be an illegal hit next season. But according to a proposed rule change, so would Doug Weight's hit on Brandon Sutter from 2008.
The following language was agreed to unanimously by the group: "A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.
A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."
The rule goes to the competition committee of players and GMs, and then to the NHL Board of Governors if it's approved. Which, one imagines, it will be for the 2010-11 season. While the Matt Cooke(notes)/Marc Savard hit was the hot topic before the meetings -- and don't you just love this rule being approved before Colin Campbell gets around to making a decision on Cooke's mugging of Savard? -- it was Richards/Booth that inspired this rule. From NHL.com and Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk:
"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel though. We have a great game. The David Booth hit is kind of the alarming one that everyone kind of took notice of, so I think it'll be for the good of the game if we can straighten this out."
Again, this is a good step toward "straightening out" hits to the head: We were in favor of this type of incremental rule change, rather than banning all contact with the head on checks. One of our arguments against a total head-shot ban was that it creates more questions than it'll answer, because the NHL's officials and League disciplinarians are hardly arbiters of consistency or fairness. Think Ovechkin on Jagr in Vancouver: Brilliant hockey hit, technically illegal via the IIHF rules. You think that gets penalized in the NHL, even with a head-shot ban?
Yet even this blindside rule is too vague. "Minor or major penalty ... shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline?" Grow a pair and set a standard. Blindside hit, five-minute major and a mandatory one-game suspension. Boom: Culture changed.
Otherwise, we're still all going to be writing and reading about controversial hits/"where's the penalty?!"/ NHL Wheel of Discipline nonsense, amplified by now having a vague standard of enforcement.
But in the end: Round of applause to the NHL GMs for finally taking action on this issue, and doing so without giving Mike Milbury the chance to use the term "pansificaiton" again.