GMs decide hits part of game
PITTSBURGH -- NHL general managers still have little interest in outlawing otherwise legal hits that result in contact to an opponent's head.
The NHL Players' Association, acting on behalf of its members, has been pushing for a rule that would ban blows to the head. So far, that request has been met with resistance from the 30 general managers -- many of whom were longtime players in the league.
"There is no appetite for an automatic penalty," Toronto general manager Brian Burke said Tuesday following a meeting at the Stanley Cup finals.
Burke has long been a proponent of the physical side of the sport and often builds his clubs with a significant amount of brawn in the lineup.
He isn't concerned about negative public reaction that could come from Tuesday's decision not to further protect players by adding a new rule governing hits.
"I'm not running for office here. I don't care if people agree with what I say," Burke said. "I'm telling you there were 30 GMs in that room and there's no appetite for an automatic penalty. Hitting is a critical part of our game, it's distinctive to North American hockey.
"If you go to an automatic penalty, the leagues where they've put it in I think it's resulted in horrendous calls for clean checks. So there is no appetite for that."
NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell made a multi-pronged presentation Tuesday that included video of hits -- both legal and illegal. He explained his decisions for imposing suspensions for some of the infractions, including one by Washington's Donald Brashear on New York Rangers forward Blair Betts in the first round of the playoffs.
Brashear was suspended a total of six games, five for the shot that broke a bone around Betts' eye.
"The hits that caused an injury grabbed a lot of attention," Campbell said. "They are no different than a legal shoulder hit that didn't cause an injury. The managers' appetite was to keep it the same and do a little more education with the players. But it's part of our game. We don't like when a player gets hurt, but it happens. It's part of the game that fans have come to accept, and [the GMs] didn't have an appetite to get rid of it."
Campbell also dismissed the notion that a poll of players revealed that 70 percent would welcome a rule against shots to the head.
The NHLPA is expected to present another proposal calling for the new penalty to be adopted.
"I'd like to ask all the players myself and I'd like to show these hits," Campbell said. "Seventy percent of those players might say that, but each hit involved two players -- one delivering it and one taking it. That's 50 percent right there. Maybe the guy who took it didn't like it, but the guy who delivered it thought it was legal."
While no one wishes to see players get hurt, as Chicago's Martin Havlat was when he was caught up high by a check from Detroit's Niklas Kronwall in the Western Conference finals. Still, big hits are a big drawing card for hockey in North America.
"It's an issue that we all want to take a long look at and continue our dialogue with the NHLPA," Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said. "It's a fine line. I don't think anyone wants hitting to come out of the game. At the end of the day, it's always been a man's game. We don't want to see serious injuries, and I think we can continue to watch out for that."
There was still no resolution, either, on the idea of adding penalties that would curb fighting -- especially staged bouts that occur after faceoffs or at the end of games.
"I'm still focused on the blows to the head and the hits like that," San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "It was a priority issue and I think we're getting closer to defining it better. I'm still on that before we get into fighting. I'd like closure to other issues before."
One thing that was agreed upon was to add a season-ending award that would honor the GM of the year.
While logistics still have to be worked out as to who will vote for the award, it should be part of the league's season-ending ceremony by next year.
"The NHL is going to acknowledge excellence at every level ... good-guy award, defensemen get awards, this and that, and a coach of the year, but there is no GM of the year. I didn't think that was right," Burke said. "I first raised this in 1994, so sometimes being a hardheaded Irishman pays off."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press