The NHL's Board of Governors on Tuesday approved changes to the wording of Rule 48 that were initially passed by the League's general managers and then the Competition Committee at meetings in Boston during the Stanley Cup Final.
Rule 48 previously provided the on-ice officials with the ability to call a major penalty for any targeted head hit from the lateral or blind side, but the re-written rule no longer includes the words lateral or blind side, and the major penalty provision has been replaced by the minor penalty provision.
"Now, the confusion some of the players have expressed in the past as to what direction they're approaching a player, what direction a player is facing, east, west, north, south, that has all been taken out," said Brendan Shanahan, NHL Senior V.P. of Player Safety and Hockey Operations. "Anywhere on the ice, coming from any direction, you target the head and make it a principle point of contact, you'll be subject to a two-minute penalty on the ice for Rule 48. You'll also be -- as with all two-minute penalties or non-calls -- subject to supplementary discipline."
"Now, the confusion some of the players have expressed in the past as to what direction they're approaching a player, what direction a player is facing, east, west, north, south, that has all been taken out. Anywhere on the ice, coming from any direction, you target the head and make it a principle point of contact, you'll be subject to a two-minute penalty on the ice for Rule 48. You'll also be -- as with all two-minute penalties or non-calls -- subject to supplementary discipline." -- Brendan Shanahan
The words "pushes" and "defenseless" were previously not included in the definition of the boarding rule. Defenseless replaced the word vulnerable.
"What we did is we took the onus off the violence of the hit itself and added the word 'push' in there," Shanahan said. "It really has more to do with the violence in the collision with the boards. We don't necessarily think it has to be a violent hit to cause a violent crash, so we broadened the rule by putting in the word 'push.' "
Shanahan added that players will try to draw a boarding penalty by acting as though they were defenseless when they were pushed into the boards. The referee will therefore be allowed the discretion to determine whether the recipient of the contact placed himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the collision and whether the check was unavoidable.
"There are, believe it or not, players that will use this as a tactic. They will turn their back at the last instance to sort of try and draw a boarding penalty," Shanahan said. "We felt that if the hitter has a chance to let up on the hit and minimize the hit, he should. There are also some instances when the hit is occurring, a player moves simultaneously with the hit and we feel that if a player puts himself in a vulnerable position like that, the circumstances of the hit can be viewed differently."
The League and the NHL Players' Association agree that adopting Rule 48 last year to govern against the lateral or blind side hits was a good start, but going further was also important to continue to guard head injuries.
"I think that is sensible," said Toronto President and GM Brian Burke. "We've gone after an area of hitting that we didn't punish before and I think it was the right thing to do. I think it makes sense."
The re-written Rule 48 is a byproduct of the work done by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's Blue Ribbon Committee of Shanahan, NHL Hockey Operations Manager Rob Blake, Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman and Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Bettman put together the group in March and tasked them with examining ways to make the game safer for players.
"We're in a good place with that," said St. Louis Blues President John Davidson. "It's an improvement. Sometimes the line gets crossed, and we have to, as a League, make sure we take care of that."
Davidson also said what many have been talking about since Shanahan was announced as NHL Senior V.P. of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell's predecessor as the League's dean of discipline -- there is an appetite among the executives for harsher supplementary discipline.
"We have to think of these players as players. We have to think of them as fathers. We have to think of them as people who are going to retire and have a life to live," Davidson said. "And we can all look back at ex-players and say, 'Why did I do that?'
"Some of us have trouble walking, when the hips go and everything else, and that's something that you can replace in surgeries and put new parts in there. But when it comes to the head, it's a different story."
Shanahan is ready to be harsh with his discipline, but he'll do it based on the situation and the offender.
"It's being communicated to me from the owners, the general managers and the players that they want certain acts suspended more severely," Shanahan said. "I'm going to follow their direction."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Additional reporting by Emily Kaplan