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GM committee frames plan to discipline head shots

by Mike G. Morreale
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- On the second day of the NHL General Managers meetings here at the Boca Raton Club & Resort, the "hawks and doves" were finally given their say regarding hits to the head.

"Hawks and doves," the label given by the NHL's Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell, was used to describe the eight-man managerial team assigned to study video and research from the last four months in an effort to reach a compromise on what is and isn't legal when he comes to hits to the head.

That eight-member committee consists of Carolina's Jim Rutherford, Toronto's Brian Burke, San Jose's Doug Wilson, Detroit's Ken Holland, Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren, Dallas' Joe Nieuwendyk, New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello and Buffalo's Darcy Regier. The group convened Tuesday to go over their findings and reach a collective decision which will be reported to the 22 other GMs Wednesday.

While nothing was set in stone, the consensus seemed to be that harsher penalties would be issued for hitting players deemed vulnerable, while supplemental discipline for repeat offenders could become more severe.

"Maybe (repeat offenders) found a niche in the game that they can do what they do, so we have to take that niche out, but pick it out the right way to keep the good parts of the game in there," Campbell said.

"The eight of us feel that something needs to be done to protect heads on blindside hits. It'll go before the group tomorrow. We've got our thoughts and recommendations. But, ultimately, you want to take it to the group and see what everyone thinks." -- Red Wings GM Ken Holland

For the last year, Holland has stood by the notion that a player hitting a vulnerable player should be penalized.

"I've gone on record going back 12-to-18 months," Holland told "I think that given the size of today's players and the speed they're going, that if a player is in a vulnerable position, it's not a free shot to hit somebody in the head. I haven't changed my opinion in a year.

"The eight of us feel that something needs to be done to protect heads on blindside hits," Holland added. "It'll go before the group tomorrow. We've got our thoughts and recommendations. But, ultimately, you want to take it to the group and see what everyone thinks."

"I think we came up with something that we all felt comfortable with," Holmgren said. "We'll run it by the larger group tomorrow. Obviously, it's something we all need to make sure we're on board with before moving forward."

The eight-man committee is confident the entire group will reach a consensus after relaying their findings.

Wilson expects the entire group to "fine tune" its suggestions, particularly that which penalizes a player for a shoulder-to-head infraction.

"We're going to fine tune that -- we're going to bring this back to the bigger group," Wilson said. "We'd like to leave here with some clarity or closure going forward by putting something in place that says 'This is how we're going to play the game. This is what's acceptable and not acceptable.' "

"We could be looking at a new rule and we could be looking at a tweak," Holmgren said. "I think supplemental discipline has been a factor and probably will be. … I don't want to say more so, but if we do move forward with this, it'll take some time for the players to educate themselves and feel good about this as well. There may or may not be more supplemental discipline involved."

The subject of head shots is an important one to Nieuwendyk, who was concussed on a hit into the end glass by Pascal Trepanier of Anaheim during the 1999-2000 season.

"I think there's a push among some people to have a stiffer penalty than what we're seeing right now for repeat offenders, so those things will be fine-tuned (Wednesday)," Nieuwendyk said. "(Since retirement in 2006), I've been in favor of refining hits to the head. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel though. We have a great game. The David Booth hit is kind of the alarming one that everyone kind of took notice of, so I think it'll be for the good of the game if we can straighten this out."

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton is confident the group will come to a collective decision Wednesday.

"These are obviously hot topics we're trying to grind out," Lawton said. "We'll come up with the right answers. (Tuesday) was more of just letting everyone get it out. Sometimes you have a warm, fuzzy meeting and sometimes you have to air it out and today was more about people getting their opinions out on the table. Hopefully, we can keep it moving tomorrow and come up with some resolutions."

While Holmgren admits not everyone in the eight-man group was on the same page from the outset, everyone voiced their concerns amidst healthy debate.

"We had a wide scope in our small group," he said. "You can't compare Brian (Burke) with Darcy (Regier) because they look at the game differently. There are things that make us all uncomfortable. I like physical hockey and there are a lot of managers who feel the same way. But there's some things that made us feel uncomfortable this year -- all of us.

"I feel pretty good about reporting back to the entire group and reaching a decision," Holmgren added. "It's just a matter of educating our players about it. Whether it's a new standard or whatever we're looking at. It's going to be part of a process we go through. This is the initial step -- trying to get it done here. The players are the ones who will have to accept it moving forward and become educated over the course of time."

If general managers do come to a collective conclusion Wednesday, which is expected, then the competition committee of players and team executives would need to approve it before it goes before the NHL's Board of Governors in June.
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