|Darcy Regier (Getty Images)
A growing concern about hits to the head was the major topic at the GM meetings earlier this week, and the matter was addressed by a pair of those general managers during Thursday's NHL Hour.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, filling in for Commissioner Gary Bettman, addressed Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier and Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis about what went on during the meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.
Regier said he was impressed with how far his contemporaries were willing to go in dealing with the issue, proposing a new rule to penalize blind-side hits to the head.
"I told the commissioner at breakfast (Wednesday) morning that I thought people perhaps might take positions, maybe draw a line in the sand and only be willing to go to a certain extent on removing those types of hits," Regier said. "It was a very collaborative effort and very committed effort. It was unanimous and everyone feels very strongly about it."
Gillis said a video the League put together highlighting body-checking and the evolution of the game, as well as other background provided, was "incredibly insightful" in helping the GMs put hard hits in today's game into the proper context.
"What appears on the outside to be quite easy, I think is extraordinarily difficult with all the considerations that have to go into amendments to how the game is played," Gillis said. "Consideration of the past and consideration of the integrity of the game and trying to ensure, in this instance, player safety while maintaining all the features that everyone really likes.
"It's a fine balancing act, and the one thing I came away with is that there certainly aren't any easy answers. I think the fact that everyone is motivated and conscious of what the issues are, there will be resolution and it will be satisfactory. It might not happen on everyone's timetable but it's certainly going in the right direction."
A blind-side hit on Boston Bruins center Marc Savard by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke on Sunday resulted in Savard being taken off the ice on a stretcher with a Grade 2 concussion. There was no penalty on the play and Cooke was subsequently not suspended by the League.
In light of that hit and other similar ones this season that knocked key players out of the lineup and raised the issue of hits to the head among executives, players and fans alike, Daly asked Gillis if he thought the proposed rule was enough to help keep players safe.
"I think it's a really good start to what may ultimately happen," Gillis said. "I think that if this is approached in stages, and you monitor player reaction to this and you see if there's a lessening of the infractions that no one really wants to see, then you've accomplished the goal.
"I think it was the perfect start because it provides the leeway necessary, it recognizes the types of hit that no one in that room is happy about or pleased with, it recognizes the injury impact on teams and players, so I think it's an excellent opening and it may do the job completely adequately. If it doesn't I'm sure it will be revisited and enhanced and address any further issues that come out of it.
"But I'm quite pleased with the wording. I think it provides the League office with the legs to attack this issue and it certainly puts players on notice. In the event those types of hits continue and are perpetrated by repeat offenders that they will be dealt with severely, and I think that's the right response."
The general managers also discussed more light-hearted issues, such as when Daly questioned Regier about his rooting interests during the Olympics. His coach, Lindy Ruff, was part of the Team Canada coaching staff, while his star goaltender, Ryan Miller
, was backstopping the United States.
"I had a tough time cheering for a country, because I found myself cheering for two individuals," Regier said. "One of them was a player, so he was in front of me all the time, so I was actually cheering for Ryan Miller
... and in the end, it worked out pretty well with Lindy Ruff getting the gold medal and Ryan Miller
getting not only the silver but the MVP of the tournament."
Daly also brought up with Gillis the Canucks' recently completed 14-game road trip that wrapped around the Olympics and saw the Northwest Division leaders post an 8-5-1 record. The Canucks will host the Senators on Saturday night in their first game at GM Place since Jan. 27.
"It wasn't as bad as people might think," Gillis said, explaining that the Canucks worked with the League office to address as many logistical issues as possible of the NHL record road trip. "We're happy with the result. There are a couple of games we thought we could have won to make it even better, but our team played hard and we're quite pleased coming home now with 15 games left in the position we're in."