Blindside hit would draw 5-minute major

Updated: June 18, 2010, 8:23 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

TORONTO -- The NHL's competition committee agreed Friday on a new head-shot rule for next season.

The committee, made up of players and GMs, met for four-plus hours at the NHL's Toronto office and ironed out the language for the new rule, which still needs approval from the NHLPA's executive board on Monday and from the board of governors on Thursday.

The new rule, which was first recommended at the GM meetings in March, would impose a five-minute penalty for a blindside hit to the head, with an automatic game misconduct. The league will also consider supplemental discipline.

The players tweaked some of the language in the new rule proposed by the GMs, but in the end both sides agreed to move forward with it.

"We were all on the same page," said veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider, a member of the committee. "I think what the issue became during the season was process. I think through today's meeting we came out and both sides are very happy with the way things went."

The NHL and NHLPA butted heads this year when the league asked to fast-track an abbreviated version of the rule, allowing the league to impose supplemental discipline for blindside hits to the head for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. The players felt rushed into a decision.

"In the end, we knew that we all wanted to get to the same place," NHL executive Brendan Shanahan said. "We all had the same goal. That's why you have a committee like this -- the sharing of information."

The players on the committee also signed off Friday on the Heritage Classic outdoor game for next season, which will pit Montreal against Calgary. That, too, will require the union's executive board (30 player representatives) to vote on it.

The competition committee also agreed Friday that the new "form-fitting'' goalie equipment would be introduced next season.

But the headliner Friday was the head-shot rule, one that has garnered much attention after big hits by Mike Richards and Matt Cooke, in particular, went unpenalized this past season under the current rules. Those types of blindside hits next season will be called a penalty under the new rule.

"I think things have happened since the lockout, since the rule changes, that were probably unforeseen," Schneider said. "That has made it necessary to change certain rules. The game is much faster; the collisions are taking place at higher speeds.

"This is why this has come about and why it needs to be addressed."

Shanahan agreed: "The game evolves. One of the things that have evolved is our collisions have got more intense. So you make little adjustments and tweaks in order to keep the players safe."

David Backes of the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets teammates Mike Commodore and Chris Clark made their competition committee debuts Friday, the three players replacing Jason Spezza, Jeff Halpern and Brian Campbell. Schneider and Ryan Miller remain, although Miller on Friday joined via conference call.

On the league side, GM Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes and GM Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings made their debuts, while Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke sat in on a one-time basis, joining holdovers David Poile, GM of the Nashville Predators, and Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider.

NHL senior vice-president Colin Campbell, also the head of NHL hockey operations, told ESPN.com Friday that Holland and Rutherford were official members of the committee now but that he needed to appoint one more GM.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA adviser Donald Fehr were among the 25 people in the room for the meeting, although only the 10 competition committee members listed above have official votes.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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