High hits warrant severe punshment

The NHL warns suspensions will be more severe this season for blows to the head and other infractions which result in injury.

Updated: September 28, 2003, 10:11 PM ET
By Chris Stevenson | Special to ESPN.com

The National Hockey League is going to continue to turn the heat up this season on players who hit high.

In a memorandum sent to players, coaches and general managers, and being circulated during training camp, disciplinarian Colin Campbell warns suspensions will be more severe this season for blows to the head and other infractions which result in injury.

The message will be sent in person Tuesday when the league's general managers will meet for their annual preseason gathering.

"(The memo) is the first-of-the-year reminder, a repeat of last year," Campbell told ESPN.com. "There are some new GMs who might not have seen it before. We don't want to take the bite out of rivalries, but if it goes from a rivalry to reckless and from reckless to stupid, we need that framework in which to work. We'll do it now before everybody hates me."

Campbell is going to reinforce the message with a personal visit to all 30 teams, probably in the company of vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy.

"A lot of time the message is sent to the manager or coach, but it doesn't get to the player. Sometimes the message doesn't get through," said Campbell.

Regarding the above-mentioned infractions, Campbell wrote:

We intend to impose more severe penalties than in the past, including suspensions where none might have been imposed in prior seasons and longer suspensions in those cases where suspensions would have been imposed.

While hockey, particularly at the NHL level, is a physical game, and we have no interest in removing that aspect from it, we believe that the game is best served by taking additional steps to reduce inappropriate incidents, particularly those leading to needless injuries.

Specifically, the league will be handing out more severe penalties for the following infractions, according to the memorandum:

• Any blow to the head delivered by the forceful use of the stick (either by cross-check, high stick or slash);

• Any blow to the head delivered forcefully by a deliberately raised elbow or forearm;

• Any hit from behind or any act which warrants a major boarding penalty; and

• Any illegal low hits in the area of opponents' knees resulting in an injury.

Following the NHL Injury Analysis Panel's recommendations, "any blow to the head delivered by the trunk, shoulder or the arm-elbow when held against the trunk...on a puck carrier will remain a legal body check. Any blow to the head delivered by an extended hand, elbow, forearm or stick is an illegal act and will be penalized as such."

Said Campbell: "It's our job to protect the players. There are going to be injuries in our game. We've managed to cut down a lot on the flying elbows and guys jumping (when delivering a hit), but you can't cleanse the game completely."

General managers are urged in the memo to "advise your players of our intentions in this regard to that everyone is on notice in advance of the season. Also, as in the past, repeat offenders will be dealt with more severely."

The league will also continue to enforce its policy on diving and will once again publish the weekly "diver's list." The league started monitoring dives and embellishments -- whether the player was penalized or not -- last March 1. If the player's actions reached an "egregious" level, his name was placed on the diver's list and he was fined $1,000 every time his name appeared.

The league remains steadfast in cracking down on its new rules limiting the height of goaltenders' pads, despite criticism from some of the goaltenders, notably Ottawa's Patrick Lalime and New York Ranger Mike Dunham, who say they are worried about the threat of injury. They aren't happy with the banning of knee boards, protection which extended above the pads, but also helped close the space between the legs when a goalie went into the butterfly position.

The new limit on the height of pads is 38 inches.

Kris King, the former NHL enforcer, is now the frontman for the pad police. He's promising to be tough. One big change: whereas goaltenders knew when inspections were coming before, King now can show up unannounced.

Chris Stevenson covers the NHL for the Ottawa Sun and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.