-- Five and a game, not two.
That was the consensus the National Hockey League's 30 general managers reached Wednesday at their annual Stanley Cup Final meeting when it came time to decide upon an on-ice penalty for the types of hits to the head that they had targeted for elimination from the game four months earlier.
If the NHL/NHLPA Competition Committee concurs, the proposal will be submitted to the League's Board of Governors, whose approval will make it the law of the NHL land on Opening Night next season. Under the rule, a player delivering "a lateral, back pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or is the principal point of contact," will be assessed a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct.
"The notion is the general managers want to see a serious penalty assessed in game," Toronto GM Brian Burke
said. "Keep in mind, if you have a hit like this and the player gets suspended, the team that gets violated by this hit -- the team that suffered as a result, injury or no injury -- they get no benefit from that. The opponents in the next 10 games or how many games he gets suspended, they get the benefit from it.
"There should be a price to pay -- an immediate penalty in the game -- so that team gets the benefit of it."
"Keep in mind, if you have a hit like this and the player gets suspended, the team that gets violated by this hit -- the team that suffered as a result, injury or no injury -- they get no benefit from that. The opponents in the next 10 games or how many games he gets suspended, they get the benefit from it."
--Toronto GM Brian Burke
At their meeting in March, following an extensive and exhaustive study of head injuries and their causes, the general managers crafted a narrowly-defined rule to outlaw particular blows to the head. While such hits were made subject to suspensions by NHL Senior Executive Vice President Colin Campbell, the GMs were unwilling to ask referees to call a new penalty until proper education and training could be completed. There also was a question about whether a minor penalty, a major or both should be options available to referees.
Viewing such hits to the head much like checking from behind, which the League sought to eliminate from the game several years ago, the general managers decided Wednesday that the on-ice penalties should be similar in severity. They also were unanimous in the belief that such hits should be subject to supplementary discipline by Campbell regardless of whether they result in injury.
In a meeting that lasted the entire five hours for which the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was booked, Campbell and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman led the general managers through a laundry list of topics related both to the game on the ice and rules and regulations governing the day-to-day operations of teams.
One topic that generated some discussion was whether too many tied games at the end of regulation proceed all the way to shootouts. However, no consensus was reached about whether to extend overtime or alter it to include a 3-on-3 portion or whether no changes are necessary at all.
"I guess that says something about teams being more evenly matched," Calgary GM Brian Sutter
said. "There is less disparity. We are all surprised there are so many shootouts."
Said Burke: "When we approved shootouts, I don't think many of us envisioned there would be so many. There is a disproportionate number of shootouts."
Reacting to changes in the game, both surprising and predictable, is the general managers' focus at these meetings. One of their most senior members -- GM of the Year finalist David Poile of Nashville -- believes the so-called stewards of the game have been steering a pretty steady course.
"The last five to six years, we clearly got a lot of things right," Poile said. "Now it's time to address [blind-side] head shots. There is an appetite to get rid of those sorts of hits. The challenge is to get the players on board and referees, too.
"What's an adjustment for referees is the difference that some of the onus is now on the hitter. We all agree that since March, it seems players are more respectful of head hits."