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Time has come to curtail hits to the head

by Phil Coffey
One paragraph has inspired quite an intense debate in the NHL.

"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

This is the recommendation that will be forwarded to the NHL and NHL Players' Association competition committee and then to the NHL Board of Governors for final approval regarding head shots. It was action initiated by an eight-man committee of NHL general managers and then approved by full group of 30 GMs.

How to deal with hits to the head had become a hot-button issue in the wake of injuries suffered by Florida's David Booth, and most recently Boston's Marc Savard, who remains out of the lineup indefinitely after being hit in the head by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.

Booth had been hit by Philadelphia's Mike Richards on Oct. 24 and missed 45 games. Under the present rules, neither Cooke nor Richards was penalized or suspended.

"Where we are going is taking a completely legal hit now, with the shoulder, and saying from a certain aspect in the future, next year, that's going to be an illegal hit if delivered to the head," NHL Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said. "Part two of that, which is a huge statement in the game, we're shifting some of the responsibility from the player getting hit to the player delivering the hit, which was never part of the game.

"You grew up, you always had to have your head up. You'd get crap from your dad if you got hit when you were watching your pass. But now there's some responsibility on the guy delivering the hit."

"I think it's good that they're moving forward," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's important. You see ... way too many head injuries. Guys are too big and they're moving too fast. We've got to take those types of plays out of the game."

Red Wings GM Ken Holland was on the small committee and said it was a case of the sport having to keep up with increasingly bigger, stronger and faster players.

"Obviously the game is evolving and rules are evolving," Holland said. "Hits that were legal in the game, (might not be) now given the speed and size of the players and how hard they backcheck -- some responsibility falls on the puck carrier, some on the hitter."

Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said in light of the hit on Booth, a revision of the criteria on what constitutes a clean hit was needed.

"I don't think we're trying to reinvent the wheel here ... but in light of some of the hits … obviously the David Booth one is kind of the alarming one everyone took notice of," Nieuwendyk said. "I think it's going to be for the good of the game."

But according to New Jersey Devils President and GM Lou Lamoriello, the measures being taken should not be viewed as a cure-all.

"This will never alleviate the problem because whenever you have a contact sport injuries can take place," Lamoriello said. "It's the same thing like quarterbacks in football -- they're still going to get hit, but it's when they're getting hit and how they're getting hit and that's exactly what my analogy is with this.

"We're putting in preventative medicine, and in my opinion it will go through and the players won't have a problem with this at all."

"You can still hit a guy, you just can't target his head," said Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. "Hitting in our game, it's part of the fabric of our game, it's what's distinctive about hockey in North America. Anywhere else on the planet you go, there's not as much hitting as there is in our game. We want to keep that. But we want to take out a dangerous hit where a guy targets a guy's head. He can still reef the guy -- he just can't target his head."

One of Burke's players, defenseman Dion Phaneuf, told reporters a move had to be made.

"Those hits to the head, there's no place for them in the game; all that comes out of it (is that) guys get hurt," Phaneuf said. "It had to be addressed and it's good they came to a ruling on it."

"Maybe it's a good thing that the GM meetings were when they are," Penguins star Sidney Crosby said. "There's obviously some confusion as to what's a good hit and what's not a good hit. That's got to be fixed pretty quickly. We've seen it time and time again, and we all debate whether it was a good or a bad hit."

Silver and gold -- We would all like to be in Ken Hitchcock's position when asked what's better, the Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal.

Unlike the rest of us, Hitchcock is in a position to answer the question based on the experiences of winning both. Hitchcock answered the question on a Dallas radio station after Team Canada won gold in Vancouver. Here is his take:

"I've said this from Day 1, nothing compares to the Stanley Cup," Hitchcock said "This (Olympic gold) is a great award for the country, it's a great award for Canada, but nothing compares to the Stanley Cup.

"The work that goes in, the development part that goes in, the two-and-a-half months' exhaustion that goes in, to me, is the hardest thing you can ever go through in competition. It's just so hard, and so intense, and so long, it takes everything you've got to win it.

"I find that the Olympics, it's a timing tournament. You need a lot of things go right in a very short period of time to win. Like, look at us -- we could've got tied up by the Slovaks and been out … we could've lost the shootout game against Switzerland. ... Those timing things worked out for us, and I feel like the timing is everything. Whereas in the NHL playoffs, it is really rewarding because you're at it so long.

"If you look at our team (1999 Stars), it took us two years to build that team in Dallas to win the Cup and then go back to the Final in 2000. Nothing can compare to the work that went in there."

Mo could have moved -- Mike Heika had an interesting read in the Dallas Morning News Wednesday on Mike Modano.

According to Heika's story, the longtime Dallas Star could have moved to another team at the trade deadline, but opted to stay in Dallas.

Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told Heika that he asked Modano the day before the March 3 trade deadline if he wanted to pursue a move. Nieuwendyk said he did not actually negotiate with another team, because he first had to establish whether Modano was open to leaving.

Nieuwendyk said he did not want to reveal the teams, but Modano said one was Washington.

"We talked about this a couple of months ago, and we agreed at the time that if there were teams interested, I would bring the information to Mike," Nieuwendyk said. "I did that, and he decided he wanted to stay."

Modano told Heika it would have felt strange to leave the team.

"Honestly, I just couldn't do it," he said. "We were in pretty good shape in the playoff race, and there's no guarantee with a new team. I've been with this team my whole life, and I want to stay with this team."

Well Said I -- "I don't know where we'd be without Steven Stamkos. He's been dominating games. To me, his practice habits and maturity off the ice have been great, more than I've ever seen a 19-20 year old. And I've played with a lot of guys, seen a lot of guys. He's at the high end of the learning curve." -- Lightning coach Rick Tocchet on Steven Stamkos

Now or never -- We're getting to that point in the season when playoff-clinching scenarios are in play. And the harsh reality is when a team clinches, another is eliminated, so clubs hovering around the eighth seed in each conference know time's a wastin' and so are valuable points if they don't get their acts together.

"We're in a do-or-die situation," Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf said. "I think that we've definitely got to get things going. I'm not saying we have to win out, but we definitely have to get things rolling and playing the way we want to."

"Our season is 31 days, plain and simple," Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz said this week. "If we're good in those 31 days, our season will be extended and hopefully for a long time. If we're not really good in those 31 days, then that's the end."

"I don't like the way the team has been playing lately," Thrashers GM Don Waddell said of his decision to recall 48-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios. "We are a desperate team right now and we have to get back on track soon. ... With the situation now, our backs are against the wall. Bringing in a veteran presence made more sense than bringing in a younger guy."

Even the Red Wings, so ensconced in Stanley Cup lore, are sweating it these days.

"I think when teams come in here, they know they've got a good chance to win if we're not on our game," Dan Cleary said. "That's been evident. I think what makes us good is our ability to hang on to the puck and not give it away, to stand up for each other, give a hit, take a hit. That's what we have to do."

"We've got to get more working," Wings coach Mike Babcock said after disappointing losses to the Flames and Canucks. "I think, no matter what profession you're in, what you have to be proud of every day is a good effort and walking into the rink feeling good about yourself, and I don't think you could do that as a team against Calgary, and I don't think you could against Vancouver (last Wednesday). To me, that's too often in a short period of time.

"So Coach isn't doing a good enough job, and neither are the players, so we just gave them different looks to see if we can't make something else go. We've got to be a better, more consistent team, and a team that plays harder for 60 minutes."

In Minnesota, goalie Niklas Backstrom was crestfallen after Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers.

"Very disappointing. One of the most disappointing," Backstrom said. "It was a game we must have. We're fighting for our lives, and that's how we play?

"You want to go out there and play your best games of the year. You always have a chance to be close to your best game, and we were not close last night."

KISS hockey -- In Calgary, Jarome Iginla told reporters the Flames don't have to waste a lot of time breaking down scenarios for the playoffs, but rather hit the ice and take care of business.

Namely, keep it simple, er, Stanley.

"Our motto since we've come back is to just go out and play," Iginla said. "We’re thinking more about the process and not about the results or how big this game is or what the results mean or that we're outside the playoffs or have this stretch or we're going to be on the road for so long.

"Just play the games and play with confidence and at the end of the day, that's all we can do, all we can control and that's really been the message in our room and we're going to continue that. I think it's helped us deal with some of that stuff that we can't control."

Well Said II -- "I think the last two days we've been working on the team concept and I think the guys responded very well to it. I think we played with more intensity. We showed that we really wanted to win, more than I've seen lately. And I think we're (going) in the right direction." -- New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire after the Devils beat the Rangers, 6-3, Wednesday.

Points to ponder -- In 66 games, Chicago's Patrick Kane has 75 points. Can he get to 100 this season? In Tampa, Steven Stamkos has 41 goals in 65 games. Can he reach 50?

"I'd by lying to you to say I wouldn't be thinking about it," Kane told reporters. "You do think about it, about having a good stretch. But if you worry about that too much it sinks in a little bit and you don't play as well.

"For me personally, I just have to worry about playing the game hard and trying to make something happen and be determined to make something happen every shift. Then that stuff will taker care of itself."

"Winning games and making the playoffs is what's at stake in these last games, and if I can get (nine) more by helping this team win then that's going to be a bonus," Stamkos said. "But I'm not going out thinking about it every night."
If Stamkos were to reach 50 goals, he would be the third-youngest player in NHL history to reach the plateau, trailing only Wayne Gretzky, who was 19 years, 2 months with the Oilers back in 1979-80, and Jimmy Carson, who was 19 years, 8 months with the Kings in 1987-88.

Not bucking Gordie -- Now that he is back in the NHL, Chris Chelios is the second-oldest player in League history, trailing only the great Gordie Howe, who incredibly played at age 52. Chelios said he isn't going that far.

"I'll be satisfied to be the oldest American," Chelios said last year.

Kudos to Clouston -- The Ottawa Senators have been one of the terrific stories in the League this season, but sometimes their success tends to get lost.

Not in the eyes of captain Daniel Alfredsson, though. The veteran winger sees the Sens in the fight for home-ice advantage and points to one man for the accomplishment.

"The biggest thing he has brought is structure," Alfredsson said of coach Cory Clouston. "We're much more confident in our neutral-zone play, our defensive-zone play, and at the same time, he's allowed us to be more aggressive, which I believe plays to our strengths. We're a pretty good skating team."

Well Said III -- "On some nights, it should just be called 'goalie' and not hockey." -- Dallas' Brad Richards, after Marty Turco made 49 saves in a 4-3 shootout win against the Capitals Monday.

Back with a bang -- Chicago's Adam Burish had been out since a preseason knee injury necessitated anterior cruciate ligament surgery.

Burish finally was back in the Blackhawks' lineup, playing against the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday in a 3-2 overtime win, and he made his presence felt, getting into a scrap and also picking up an assist.

"The day I had surgery is the day we left for Europe (for the Bridgestone NHL Premiere)," Burish told Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. "It's been a heck of a long time."

As you might imagine, an energy player like Burish wasn't terribly happy in rehab mode.

"Every day was tough," he said. "You don't feel a part of it when you're hurt this long. You kind of feel like you're on the outside watching."

Home again -- Yes, the Vancouver Canucks are happy to be home after vacating GM Place for what must have seemed like forever to accommodate the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Canucks are home now and finally have a homestand starting Saturday.

"I think it's a five-game homestand," forward Alex Burrows said. "I'm not even sure. That tells you how long it has been. It's going to be nice to go home, for sure. It's been a while."

Coach Alain Vigneault said he was pleased with the 8-5-1 record his players produced on the longest road trip in NHL history.

"I knew we were a good road team," Vigneault told reporters. "I knew this was going to be a challenge, but our guys would be able to step up and get it done. Everything considered, we did a pretty good job."

Be prepared -- Call Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Jay McKee a true pro. Adding Jordan Leopold prior to the trade deadline has cost McKee ice time, but that won't keep him from being ready to go when called upon.

"Part of my job, given the situation I'm in, is pushing the guys who are playing," McKee said. "For me, that's being accomplished by working real hard in the weight room and making an impression on the coaching staff, working harder than I've ever worked before.

"We're all professionals here. Every player who's in this game wants to play, and I'm no different."

Well Said IV -- "Would we like to be like some other teams? Sure we would. But we're not. You can't worry about where you wish you were. Sure, we wish we were sitting like San Jose or Chicago -- but we're not. That's reality. Let's not think, 'Geez, if we don't win the games.' Let's worry about our own process that night. It's how you handle it." -- Flames coach Brent Sutter

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