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NHL GMs see no need for hit-to-head penalty

by Brian Compton / NHL.com
PITTSBURGH -- NHL General Managers gathered on Tuesday afternoon, just hours before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final got under way at nearby Mellon Arena. The majority of the conversation was dominated by what seems to be the never-ending saga of hits to the head and should they be an automatic penalty?

While most players wouldn't mind the rule -- one that was instituted in the Ontario Hockey League three years ago -- the NHL general managers don't appear ready to budge. One of the most outspoken on the issue was Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who believes status quo is the way to go.

"The general managers don't feel a need to make a change there," Burke said. "We feel that Colin Campbell does a good job going after the players with supplementary discipline when the hits are high or when the hits are late. We don't want an automatic penalty where a legal check results in contact with the other player's head."

There already have been a couple controversial hits in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Most recently, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall left Chicago Blackhawks forward Martin Havlat temporarily unconscious in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at the United Center. In Round 2, Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler received a nasty gash on his forehead following an open-ice hit by Anaheim Ducks forward Mike Brown.

Both Kronwall and Brown were thrown out of those respective games, but neither player received a suspension from the League. Because of such instances, hits to the head -- including those that lead with the shoulder -- remain a hot topic of conversation.
"We feel that Colin Campbell does a good job going after the players with supplementary discipline when the hits are high or when the hits are late. We don't want an automatic penalty where a legal check results in contact with the other player's head." -- Leafs' GM Brian Burke


"It's something the NHLPA has been dealing with and something they will probably present us after their meeting in (Las) Vegas, and so we need to deal with that," said NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell. "We showed five hits where the shoulder contacted the head and there was an injury -- i.e. Kronwall on Havlat. The hits that caused an injury grabbed a lot of attention from you guys, the media, from fans and they are no different from a legal shoulder hit that didn't cause injury. The managers' appetite was to keep it the same and do a little more education with the players. But it's a part of our game. We don't like when a player gets hurt, but it happens and it's a part of the game that fans have come to accept and (the managers) didn't have any appetite to get rid of it."
 
Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey expressed his concern about the health of the players, but also believes some players need to be more aware of where they are on the ice in certain situations.

"I think there's an appetite to continue to strive towards better safety for the players," Gainey said. "There's also a strong sense that body contact and hard-body contact in the games is still part of hockey. We need to work towards really diminishing injuries and improving the safety of the players, but not taking away the robust, physical play which attracts all of us to the game.

"We're aware in our city which intersections where there're a lot of auto accidents," Gainey added. "When you get there, you have to be on guard. There're a lot of places on the ice that provide the players with that risk. You try to increase the awareness for the players in those areas."

Burke agreed. While he knows the players will continue to argue for changes, he, for one, is not prepared to listen.

"There's some responsibility on the players themselves," the Leafs' GM said. "They can bring that fight if they want. There's no appetite for it in this group. None. Zero."

San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said he understands that safety is an issue, but loves the way the game is being played right now. His team won the Presidents’ Trophy with the most points (117) in the regular season before being ousted by Anaheim in the opening round of the playoffs.

"Safety issues should be at the forefront, but we want this game to be played really physical," Wilson said. "The game is as good as we've ever seen it. We have great young players. You must make sure you continue to analyze the game."








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