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Player Safety report to GMs focuses on boarding, interference

Illegal hits to head seen as declining

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Not long ago, when NHL general managers gathered for their annual meetings here, the conversation centered on hits to the head.

Things have changed.

The NHL Department of Player Safety has issued two suspensions for illegal checks to the head this season. When NHL senior vice president of player safety George Parros reported to the GMs on Tuesday, he focused on boarding and interference. The department has issued six suspensions for boarding -- one in the preseason, five in the regular season -- and five for interference.

 

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"It's really a good thing," Parros said after leading a discussion focused on player safety in one of the breakout sessions during Day Two of the meetings. "If you think about it, where the department's come, from its very inception, [hits to the head were] the big concern. And we'd see a lot of guys head hunting and the rest of it. And now we keep shifting the microscope to different aspects of the game and really smaller and less [intentional] aspects of the game. 

"Head contact certainly has not gone away, but it's perhaps in a different form now. But yeah, the straight [hits to the head], [we] really haven't seen too much this year."

Parros said that when it comes to boarding, the department sees younger players turning their backs to the play at the last second, perhaps because they've grown up not expecting to be hit.

"Those are the tough ones to determine where the fault lies," Parros said. "If a player can actually get out of the way before making contact when he does see the numbers, we take that into consideration. But we do see a lot of the younger players these days putting themselves in tough situations at the last second."

Video: Parros on player safety talks at the GM Meetings

Parros said most interference suspensions involve head contact, because the later the hit, the less tolerance the department has for head contact.

"When you're talking about interference, you're talking about a player that should no longer expect to be getting hit," Parros said. "And if he's still absorbing some contact to the head after a late hit, it becomes more dangerous to that player."

Parros said the department received no pushback from the GMs about the standard for supplemental discipline.

New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero said rule changes and videos explaining suspensions have reduced head shots.

"I think it's education," Shero said. "You see more of the guy turning at the last minute on the open-ice hit, and if a guy's engaged, the guy's not coming out of nowhere and hitting him."

Video: Nick Cotsonika joins E.J. to discuss GM Meetings

Shero praised the process after one of his players, 22-year-old forward Miles Wood, was suspended two games for boarding Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vladislav Namestnikov on Feb. 17. The Department of Player Safety went through the incident with Wood step by step at his hearing.

"[They said], 'Miles, what are you thinking here? Here's what we see you could have done,' " Shero said. "And he saw it. I just said to Miles, 'You're going to get suspended.' He's three years out of prep school. I just said, 'Keep one thing in mind. You would not want to get hit that way.' So you've got to learn from that, and [he's] lucky the player wasn't injured.

"No one cares about the players more than we do. Safety is important."

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