BOSTON -- The Competition Committee on Monday approved the recommendation from the National Hockey League's general managers that Rule 48 should be broadened to make targeted head hits from any direction illegal.
The exact language of the re-written rule is still being worked out, but it is expected to be presented for final approval at the June 21 Board of Governors meeting in New York. If the Board of Governors give the go ahead, the new Rule 48 will go into effect beginning with the 2011-12 season.
"There were hits this year that we want eliminated from the game and we need to make sure we don't end up back in this situation again next year," said former NHL veteran Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. "Without getting real specific, players and managers, and as my thinking would be, the Board of Governors and our Board, want to keep the physical play in and want to put some onus on guys being aware on the ice, but at the same time there are hits that we want to rid ourselves of. By expanding Rule 48, we're hoping to be able to do that."
Schneider and NHL Senior V.P. of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan will work together with NHL and NHLPA lawyers to help formulate the language for the re-written rule that will be presented to the Board of Governors.
The voting members of the NHL/NHLPA Competition Committee
Rule 48, which was written into the NHL Rulebook for the 2010-11 season, currently renders illegal any lateral or blindside hit where the head is the principal area of target.
"I think the most important thing for me is that we're doing this in partnership with the NHLPA," Shanahan said. "This is what the players want. There are a ton of gray and difficult decisions at times, but to know that these guys are partners -- in the end we want the same thing to make the game as safe as we possibly can while still keeping it hockey."
Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri said the players are absolutely on board with these changes because it will help clarify to them what is legal vs. illegal.
"That's the idea, but having said that and having watched all the clips I saw today, there is still always going to be a borderline hit," said Cammalleri, one of five player reps on the Competition Committee. "That's the challenge. Brendan is going to have a difficult job at the League this year making certain decisions. But the discussion today should lend itself to Brendan having more of a black-and-white idea of what is a hit that we want out of the game. That's good for everybody."
Shanahan, who is taking over as the League's chief disciplinarian and will be doling out punishment, suggested he will be working closely with Schneider and the Players' Association to communicate any and all supplemental discipline decisions so there are as few gray areas as possible.
"We're going into a new era with Brendan on supplemental discipline and we'll be working closer, drawing finer lines and being very open and transparent about what is going on," Schneider said.
Shanahan and Schneider confirmed the NHL's equipment manufacturer presented some of its new technology for smaller equipment. Shanahan says he believes some players are using their equipment as weapons rather than for protection and believes more streamlined and smaller pads will result in fewer injuries.
"We wanted to describe for them the direction we thought was best for player safety and player performance," Shanahan said. "I think it's important at this point now is for Mathieu to go back to his players and communicate with them at their annual meeting."
Schneider said he has already had discussions with various players, but they are still far from making any recommendations.
"The equipment companies are heading in the direction we want them to head," said Schneider. "The issue you have now is players have grown up with certain style of equipment, big equipment all around, so there is some work to do on our part as far as getting guys comfortable going in the direction of smaller shoulder pads. I think in the long run it's better for the game. In general, the guys have always asked for smaller, more comfortable, lighter gear so I don't think we're doing anything to make them more vulnerable."
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That's a really tough thing to play through; when you finally are thrown out there, the game is fast, intense, every single play matters, you've got to find a way to play through that and make smart plays. So it's a huge testament to [Vermette] and some other individuals in our locker room that are putting their own ego, their own wants and needs aside, and are ready for those opportunities when they do come.
— Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews on teammate Antoine Vermette, who returned from being a healthy scratch in Game 3 to score the double-overtime winner in Game 4