March 16, 2010
Upon hearing that the NHL and the NHLPA may expedite the blindside hit-to-the-head rule suggested by the general managers this month, many of us would simply say "yes, please."
Getting something on the books, ASAP, that will no longer give the NHL justice department the cover of "well, technically, it was a legal hit," and that will offer some modicum of protection for players in order to keep them off the stretcher. Do something fast and proactive to help break this cycle of injuries and depressing debates the NHL has been mired in since the Olympics.
Were it only that simple. David Shoalts of the Globe & Mail spoke to one NHL general manager who offered a contrarian view about the dangers of rushing the rule change.
From the Globe & Mail:
But one general manager who requested anonymity did not think it was a good idea to make the change before next season. "It would not be fair to change it now," he said. "The officials have to have time to figure out how to call it."
The GM said the league does have the duty to protect players from head hunters. He said hits like the recent ones that caused a large outcry around the NHL and from the public can be dealt with in the short-term with existing rules and supplemental discipline.
"The [NHL] hockey operations department can issue suspensions and the referees can call intent-to-injure [major] penalties," the GM said.
You'd think the precedent for ignoring blindside hits has been set by the NHL this season after the rulings on Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards(notes) and Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke(notes), but consistency isn't exactly the League's forte. That suggestion from the anonymous GM should work in theory, but not as well as an actual ban on blindside hits to the head would were it to be turned into law.
The rest of the GM's concerns are valid, though. The NHL is usually meticulous with wholesale rules changes: Putting them through the committee process, testing them in the AHL, informing players and officials about their implementation.
This is a major rule change that could occur with only a few games left in the regular season or at the start of the playoffs. These things tend to morph over the course of a season -- think about the obstruction rules -- so is there any chance we can have uniformity this late in the year?
Or, as Shoalts mentioned:
Mr. Weatherdon said the players on the competition committee may have questions about the rule and may want to consult their peers before making any decisions.
Can the NHLPA get on the same page in time to pass an effective rule the majority of its members agree with?
Player safety should, and probably will, trump this inconvenience for the referees, the players and League disciplinarians -- even if the "blindside" rule enforcement is all over the map in the 2010 postseason.
There's too much momentum behind expediting the rule change, especially after getting a "Hockey Night in Canada" spotlight from Don Cherry. And as David Booth(notes) and Marc Savard(notes) have shown, there's too much at stake not to pass is expeditiously.