GMs expect to have new penalty on blows to head
OTTAWA -- In the wake of Chris Pronger's second suspension in two playoff rounds for a blow to the head, and with the obvious lack of respect players show for each other by regularly delivering devastating blind-side blows to the head, the NHL is expected to implement a new rule prohibiting the move next season.
"They're going to come up with a rule. We all agree that a direct hit to the head, and it's the only part of the body hit, it should be penalized," Atlanta GM Don Waddell said after the GMs met at an Ottawa-area hotel prior to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Although a number of topics were considered, the head-hunting debate dominated the day's discussion.
"I do like that idea," Buffalo GM Darcy Regier said. "I think we have too many situations where we have players showing a lack of respect for each other and, quite frankly, I think are deliberately going for each other's heads. Obviously, it's very dangerous and needs to be addressed."
"I think the biggest point to it is that when you look at the replays of players who get hurt, they're vulnerable," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford added. "They're getting hit from the blind side and getting hit in the head. And that's really where the league has to zero in almost like they did with the hitting from behind.
"We can do it. We have to protect our players. We're getting a lot of players hurt. And one of these days, we're going to get one of our top players hurt for a long time if we don't take care of it now. We clearly have to do this prior to next season."
While no one is in favor of players being injured because of high hits, the major issue is in making sure legal hits continue to be a part of the game.
"If it's a combination as you're hitting the body and head together, it's not penalized," Waddell said. "But if it's just a complete hit to the head they're going to come up with a rule that will be written that way for that."
He is expecting a new minor penalty.
"But even if it's a penalty or not a penalty, it's still due for supplemental," Waddell said. "I think it's critical. We lost a player for the year, so if there's a player that gets hurt, then the league can supplement and hopefully the penalty will be severe enough for what the cause of the injury was." The Thrashers lost center Steve Rucchin after a high hit against Colorado on Feb. 8.
The theory is by highlighting the inappropriate behavior with a specific penalty, players will learn more quickly that such behavior will automatically cost their team with a penalty and then possibly a suspension through supplemental discipline.
"I do think it helps. What it does is draw attention to the fact that you're not allowed to hit someone in the head. You can't hit anyone in the head with a stick right now, accidentally or purposely, so the reality is that I think that needs to be carried over," Regier said. "I think it's important to identify it as a hit to the head because we have kneeing, we have a lot of other type situations, and we need that identification and the protection of the head."
Other topics that were also discussed Monday included:
Although the notion of fundamentally changing the game by enlarging the current nets is opposed by many NHL GMs, they agreed that, in the face of declining scoring, it is a topic that warrants further and continued discussion.
"There's no [shooting] lanes anymore. But then, the question is, if there's bigger nets, are they going to come up with another way to defend," said Rutherford, a former NHL netminder. "I'm not for it, but I don't think there's any problem with continuing to look at it. There are some people that are adamant that we're going to have to go to that at some point."
One of those people who feel that way is Nashville GM David Poile.
"My personal viewpoint is that it's something that's eventually going to happen if we don't find other areas to make scoring an adequate amount," Poile said. "I personally would like to see more scoring. I don't represent the majority by any stretch of the imagination. I think everyone, though, is a little bit concerned that the goal scoring has gone down because, once again, no matter what we've done in terms of changing the rules, the obstruction, the interference, and all that, the defensive schemes seem to always outweigh anything we can do offensively.
"It's something that I think is going to be topical for basically every general managers meeting for the foreseeable future."
The issue will be how to test bigger nets. Normally, the American Hockey League has been agreeable to testing out new wrinkles for the NHL, but it's believed the AHL would balk at using bigger nets just so the NHL can see how they work out.
"I'm not sure that [the AHL] is the true test because you've got different shooters. The true test is to put them right in our league and find out if that's what people want to do," Rutherford said.
Although the idea of limiting playoff overtime did garner some discussion, mostly because television folks don't like the idea of playoff games that could run several hours over a normal game-time slot, GMs opted to maintain the traditional format where playoff games can go on indefinitely.
"We talked about that, but right now everybody's status quo," Waddell said.
Of 129 games that went to overtime during the last five playoff years, only seven have gone to a third overtime. "That's seven of 600 playoff games. It's so few, so why get caught up on changing it," he said.
The NHL will ask the AHL to test one-minute penalties during their five-minute 4-on-4 overtime session during the regular season. This is a pet project of Anaheim GM Brian Burke, who thinks it's too onerous for teams to kill off the current two-minute minor penalty when the overtime only lasts five minutes.
Faceoffs on the dot
Starting next season, all faceoffs will be held at existing dots. Currently, linesmen have discretion on where the puck is dropped in the neutral and end zones.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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