The issue of hits to the head will be a major topic of conversation when the NHL's general managers convene for their annual March meeting Monday through Wednesday in Boca Raton, Fla.
The issue gained plenty of attention early this season following an open-ice hit by Philadelphia's Mike Richards on Florida's David Booth on Oct. 24. The collision left Booth unconscious and he had to be removed from the ice on a stretcher. Richards wasn't suspended, but Booth missed more than three months with a concussion.
"I think I'm like any other GM, I have an opinion on head shots and what belongs and doesn't belong in the game and where it's appropriate," Florida GM Randy Sexton recently told NHL.com when asked about his thoughts on the hit almost five months later. "I'll make my opinion known, but we'll see how the meetings unfold."
|Florida Panthers forward David Booth is wheeled off the ice on a stretcher as Philadelphia Flyers' Chris Pronger (20) checks on him in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) |
Fast-forward to Sunday. Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke put a shoulder to the head of Boston Bruins' star scorer Marc Savard late in the third period, sending Savard out on stretcher and diagnosed with a concussion. No penalty was called on the play, but Bruins coach Claude Julien expressed a different view after the game: "It certainly doesn't look like a very good hit," Julien said. "We'll let the League take care of it and hopefully make the right decision here."
The GMs debated the issue of hits to the head at last March's meetings, but did not reach a consensus. At a fall 2009 meeting in Toronto, the League's GMs pledged to identify a study group that would report to the entire group at the meetings in Boca Raton this week. The study group reportedly includes GMs Darcy Regier of Buffalo, Jim Rutherford of Carolina, Ken Holland of Detroit, Joe Nieuwendyk of Dallas, Lou Lamoriello of New Jersey, Paul Holmgren of Philadelphia, Doug Wilson of San Jose and Brian Burke of Toronto.
"I don't think we're looking for a big rule change, but maybe we can tweak something. There's not many of these (blindside hits to the head) a year, fortunately," Penguins GM Ray Shero said recently to ESPN.com. "There might be four or five. But when they happen, they're catastrophic."
If general managers do suggest making blindside hits illegal, then the competition committee, which consists of players and team executives, would need to approve it before the NHL's Board of Governors meeting in June. The Governors would have to approve too.
"It's a topic that is hard to get everybody to see it the same way," Nashville Predators GM David Poile said. "I think every manager is a good and concerned citizen; we don't like when players get hurt, we don't like it when somebody gets taken off on a stretcher.
"Over the course of one game, there's 40-plus hits, so you multiply that out, that's 50,000-plus hits over the course of a season. There's no manager that wants to take hitting out of the game. For these 10 or so hits, what's the right thing to do?"
NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell has said "the hitting today is so much more evident" than when he played in the League in the 1970s.
Since the NHL trade deadline has come and gone, the meetings also will offer the general managers an opportunity to concentrate on the business of hockey without worrying about whether they'll be deemed "sellers" or "buyers."
The GM meetings held last March marked the first time in three years the event was conducted after the trade deadline. In 2007 and '08, the mid-winter get-together was held about a week before the deadline -- proving to be quite the distraction.
"I like having the meetings after the trade deadline because you can focus on the agenda items and all of the issues that need good, healthy discussion and consideration," Sexton said. "When the meetings were held before the trade deadline, most of your time is consumed with trying to do what you think you need to do, whether you're buying or selling."
Washington GM George McPhee agrees.
"We used to do this before the deadline and there were a lot of distractions," McPhee said in an interview on NHL Live! "Now you can't do anything to your team, so we can go down there and really concentrate on all the issues.
"The whole hockey world is sort of following what you're doing since it relates to rules or pertains to icings, faceoffs and hits, hits to the head, and that sort of thing. I think it's important that these meetings have our undivided attention and we do the right things and make right decisions."