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Chiarelli: Savard hit what we're talking about

by Shawn P. Roarke
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Seeing Marc Savard being removed on a stretcher from Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins wasn't far from the mind of Boston Bruins' GM Peter Chiarelli as the NHL General Managers' meetings got under way at the Boca Beach Club.

Savard suffered a head injury after being checked -- shoulder to head -- by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke with 5:37 remaining in Sunday's game. Savard suffered a concussion on the hit and was stretchered off the ice.

"What I saw -- and I didn't see a lot of the replays, so I shouldn't speak too quickly on this -- but based on what I saw, this was the prime example of what we are talking about here," Chiarelli said Monday afternoon.

Much of Monday's session among the GMs was divided almost equally among discussions about hits to the head and how to regulate them, as well concussion research and prevention.

The Savard incidence allowed a look into many of the complexities the managers will face during the next 72 hours as they wrestle with balancing the game's inherent physicality with a need to insulate its players from serious head injuries.

On the play in question, Savard had just taken a shot from above the faceoff circles in the attacking zone when Cooke, on the backcheck, used his shoulder and struck Savard in the head. Cooke was coming from behind on the play and Savard did not see him.

There was no penalty assessed on the play because shoulder hits to the head are legal in the NHL rulebook. This week, general managers will be educated on a number of issues surrounding both hits to the heads and concussions before being asked if they are willing to modify the current rules surrounding shoulder contact to the head -- be it a change to the NHL rulebook or an overhaul of the supplemental discipline system when it comes to hits to the head.

"What I saw was that he was in a position of vulnerability," Chiarelli said. "Now, that is not a criteria right now for supplemental discipline. But I think you have to look at the repeat offending. These are all things we have talked about before."

Pittsburgh GM ray Shero stated emphatically Monday during an appearance on NHL Live! that he did not believe the Cooke hit was against the rules.

"By the criteria of the hit, Matt Cooke did not lunge at him or elbow him," Shero said. "It was a shoulder and, as Marc was following through with the shot, he got hit with the shoulder. Everybody wants to protect the players and we want to try to protect them, but it's not as easy as saying let's get rid of this."

And, that is the crux of the problem the 30 GMs here face this week.

Chiarelli says Monday's conversation about hits to the head is as earnest as he has seen. He believes his peers will spend the next few days hashing out something concrete in what has been a long and complex debate about all the issues surrounding hits to the head.

"We're very genuine about this," Chiarelli said. "It's the balance between physicality and hits to the head; but, yes, I am confident (something will get worked out)."
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