Reuters - Thu, 11 Mar 07:50:00 2010
National Hockey League general managers unanimously recommended a rule banning blindside hits to the head after three days of meetings where the issue of head injuries dominated discussions.
The recommendation now goes to the NHL and NHL Players Association competition committee and then, if approved, to the NHL Board of Governors for final approval in the summer.
"We're not a mean and vicious sport," said Colin Campbell, NHL director of hockey operations. "We want to try to decrease the amount of concussions."
Campbell, who took part in the meetings, said rule changes that made the game faster have caused collisions of greater force and general managers felt it was time to address the number of players being carted off the ice.
The NHL's 30 general managers were given a reminder of the devastating damage caused by blindside hits prior to the start of their meetings on Monday as Boston's Marc Savard was flattened by a shoulder to the head from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke on Sunday.
Savard was left unconscious and diagnosed with a grade two concussion. The two-time All-Star is still suffering headaches and blurry vision and could out for the rest of the season.
The NHL has said Cooke will not be suspended for the hit. The proposal being put forward by the general managers would make such hits illegal.
"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted," the recommendation reads.
"A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."
But while general managers agree for the need to protect players from such hits, they were reluctant to further water down the physical component that is a big part of the sport's tradition and appeal.
As a result, general managers avoided calling for an outright ban on hits to the head and placed some of the responsibility of players' safety on the players themselves.
The thundering direct open ice hits that may accidentally result in a shoulder to the head will remain part of the action.
"This is still a physical game, it's a contact sport and we have to be very, very careful how we approach it," said New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello.
"But the grey area will always be there."