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Opinions divided on how to control head shots

by Dan Rosen

"It's never a clear topic because when you watch these hits, not live, but in our case after it's been dissected and slowed down in video we still don't have a consensus of whether it was a clean hit or dirty hit, whether the player was vulnerable or helpless or whether the player was showing a lack of hockey sense in having his head down."
-- Nashville GM David Poile

TORONTO -- On the controversial topic of head shots in the NHL, it's apparent that if you discuss hits to the head with a mixed bag of League personalities, you get a mixed bag of opinions on how these hits should be governed.
Head shots will be a major item Wednesday inside the Metro Grand Ballroom here at the Westin Harbour Castle where NHL executives and the League's general managers and assistant general managers are meeting.
"It's never a clear topic because when you watch these hits, not live, but in our case after it's been dissected and slowed down in video we still don't have a consensus of whether it was a clean hit or dirty hit, whether the player was vulnerable or helpless or whether the player was showing a lack of hockey sense in having his head down," Nashville GM David Poile told "In every one of these situations there is a less than unanimous distinction of exactly what happened and who was wrong with it."

The topic of head shots was not discussed in Tuesday's three-hour session, but Toronto GM Brian Burke confirmed it is on the agenda to discuss Wednesday.

"We don't want an automatic penalty for contact with the head," Burke said. "An otherwise legal check that includes contact with the head that's a penalty in some leagues, we don't want that. It would take hitting out of the game completely. A couple of the hits this year trouble me and we're going to talk about those tomorrow."
One opinion, though, seems to be universal: The players need to take responsibility, too -- and we're not just talking about the guys doing the hitting.
"Players have to take some responsibility to know that it's a physical game and you can't admire the pass you just made," New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello said. "You have to be ready to get hit. I think that some of our new rules have really given people a little bit of a license to take it easy and not be ready, but they have to take responsibility."
"I agree with that 100 percent," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told "I think commanding your share of the ice and looking out for yourself and not expecting the League or the referee to do that is very important."

Hockey Hall of Famer and NHL Network analyst Larry Murphy told that he is mystified by the number of players he sees turning their backs to the play or turning their backs to a player coming at them, especially when they are around the boards.
Murphy said it never used to be like that, but the new rules have allowed players to try to protect themselves in that way. They know if they get hit from behind and driven into the boards, the guy doing the hitting is going to get a boarding penalty.
"You always had to be aware of where you are in relation to the boards and you had to stay close to the boards and protect yourself that way," Murphy said. "Now the play is to turn your back to a guy and it's like, hands off. That kind of mentality is leaking into the game and you see guys in the neutral zone making passes and thinking that they're not vulnerable. You see it all the time."
Some of this comes down to a respect issue, which is where opinions vary.
Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille said he's part of a faction around the League now who watch games and believe the players don't show any respect for one another on the ice for whatever reason.
"To fix that, if the instigator rule was a little more lenient there might be a few guys that watch themselves," Robitaille said. "There are guys that can't get involved in protecting their teammates and that changes things."
Murphy, who also played in Robitaille's era, doesn't buy into the lack-of-respect theory. In fact, he believes the current rules have fostered more respect among the players.
"It was a much dirtier game before," Murphy said. "I mean, you had the likes of the Broad Street Bullies and you're not going to see that again. They talk about lack of respect, I mean, come on, I don't see anything like that now.
"In this day and age, if anything happens you're going to see it a hundred times on 14 different outlets," Murphy continued. "Everything gets captured, which wasn't always the case. There was just as much or more vicious stuff going on 20 to 30 years ago than there is now, but now it's just coming to light. But, I think there is a line you have to be careful about crossing. It's a problem now and it's always been a problem."
Lamoriello believes the lack-of-respect argument goes back to the debate on equipment, especially shoulder pads, which the GMs are discussing here.
"I think what has transpired is that we've got the size helmets we have on our heads and the face shields we have so you have less fear of hurting someone and when that happens, you have less respect," Lamoriello said. "I think some liberties are taken because of the equipment. I'm not one who believes more equipment will make it safer."
Lamoriello isn't suggesting less equipment would be better -- it's more in the size and the surface of some of some of the equipment, especially the hard-cased shoulder pads.
A soft covering for elbow pads was mandated in 2003 and it has reduced the number of injuries from elbows to the head since then. The League has been trying for several years to get the NHLPA to agree to a soft covering on the shoulder pads, too,

PA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon told that while there is no official agreement, the union has given the green light for players to wear them and some already are. However, the PA would like the soft-cap design to be grandfathered into the League.
"We have to look at that because some of this equipment is really too thick," Lamoriello said. "Our players are bigger and stronger, but I think players have to respect each other. I want to be very careful in how it's interpreted because we now are really expounding on anything that happens out there."
The speed of the game has been an enabler for injuries, including some stemming from head shots. Since clutching and grabbing has been eliminated, players are moving faster than ever.
That, of course, fosters another debate: Touch icing vs. no-touch icing.
Murphy believes in touch icing because it allows for a race for the puck and that's exciting. It can also create scoring chances if the offensive player wins the race.
Robitaille doesn't see the point of it in today's game, especially when the trapezoid limits the areas a goalie can go to play the puck.
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