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NHL owners agree on penalties for blindside hits

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LOS ANGELES (AP) -NHL owners unanimously agreed Thursday to penalize blindside hits to the head with major penalties and ejections.

The new rule was the biggest development from the league's board of governors meeting, held one day before the NHL draft at Staples Center.

The board's approval was the final step to institute five-minute in-game penalties and game misconducts for such dangerous hits. Offenders still will be subject to possible supplemental discipline, as well.

"I wish we had changed this rule a year ago," Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said. "Maybe we wouldn't have had those last two horrible incidents."

Burke referred to two nasty hits that went unpenalized during games last season, sparking relatively quick action on a new rule.

Philadelphia's Mike Richards landed a blindside hit on Florida's David Booth in October, keeping Booth out for 45 games with a concussion. Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke then leveled Boston's Marc Savard in March, sidelining the Bruins' star playmaker for the final 18 regular-season games and their first-round playoff series because of a concussion.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the only change to the rule originally proposed by the league's general managers and then approved by the competition committee was the removal of the phrase "back-pressure," which players felt was too vague.

The rule now prohibits "lateral or blindside hits to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact."

Boston Bruins president Cam Neely, who both received and dished out more than his share of big hits during his Hall of Fame playing career, approved of the move.

"I don't know if they're going to make everybody happy, but at least they're making an attempt to get it out of the game," Neely said.

The rule, titled "Illegal Check to the Head," also gives the referee the ability to hand out a match penalty if he believes the player attempted to deliberately injure his opponent. Any player who receives two game misconducts under this rule, in the regular season or playoffs, will be suspended automatically for the next game.

For each subsequent game misconduct penalty, the automatic suspension will be increased by one game.

The board of governors met for five hours Thursday at a downtown hotel across the street from Staples Center, where the draft will begin with the first round Friday night. An economic status report took up much of the session, including a detailed breakdown of the numbers behind the new salary cap.

Earlier, the NHL and the NHL Players' Association jointly announced that next season's salary cap will be $59.4 million, up from $56.8 million. Teams must maintain a minimum payroll of $43.4 million.

The owners also got an update from deputy commissioner Bill Daly on the NHL's progress in selling the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes. Bettman and Daly have been monitoring talks between the city government of Glendale, Ariz., and various potential ownership groups working on a mutually agreeable lease for Jobing.com Arena.

"We showed them last year's budget, this year's budget, and everybody is completely comfortable with what's going on," Bettman said. "We've been leaving it to Glendale to figure out who they can make a deal with, but I'm hopeful in the course of the summer, things will get resolved."

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