30 Thoughts: NHL clarifies illegal check to head rule | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: NHL clarifies illegal check to head rule

Posted: Monday, September 9, 2013 | 11:17 AM

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Greater onus is being placed on NHL players themselves this season to avoid targeting the head when making bodychecks. (Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images) Greater onus is being placed on NHL players themselves this season to avoid targeting the head when making bodychecks. (Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

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The updated 2013-14 NHL rulebook is not yet available, but when it is, several changes and one important modification will be seen.

The updated 2013-14 NHL rulebook is not yet available, but when it does go online, you will see some changes.

We were expecting most of them: limits on goalie pad sizes; mandatory visors for players with less than 25 games played; and the elimination of the "attainable pass" language from icing.

But there is one unexpected modification.

Rule 48.1 (Illegal Check to the Head) used to read as follows: "A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted." Personally, I found the "targeting" issue difficult to determine at times. NHL speed didn't always make it easy, especially if there weren't enough camera angles with a proper view.

The competition committee suggested finding different wording. The league and NHL Players' Association both agreed, spending the summer finding something acceptable to everyone.

This is not considered an official rule change, which involves a lengthier process. Instead, the language was altered for greater clarity. Now Rule 48.1 declares an illegal check to the head as "a hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable."

You're going to ask the obvious follow-up. How do you determine if the hit is avoidable? There are three circumstances to be considered:

First, whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent's body and the head was not "picked" as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.

Second, whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

Third, whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

Obviously, we need game action to see how this change affects things. But in theory, it makes a lot of sense. By eliminating "targeted" and adding "avoidable," it puts added onus on the hitter to avoid recklessness. Ultimately, that's what you want.


1. Reminder: once exhibition games start, the NHL will be testing a form of hybrid icing. The defender and the chaser will race to the faceoff dot. If the defenceman is first, the play is blown dead. If the attacking player is ahead, the chase continues. At the end of the pre-season, the players will vote on it. "Yes" puts hybrid icing in place for 2013-14.

2. The hockey operations department debated two things. First, what happens if the linesman judges the race to be even? The baseball rule is that the tie goes to the offence (runner), but in the NHL, defencemen get the benefit to minimize injury risk. Second, the possibility exists the play is blown dead but the puck doesn't actually reach the goal-line. In that case, the faceoff will take place at centre ice.

3. Next to receive an extension in Chicago? Don't be surprised if it is Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman.

4. Ryan Whitney (St. Louis) and Mason Raymond (Toronto) are among the notables accepting tryout offers. During the summer, a number of players said they would refuse this route, waiting for injuries/ineffectiveness to force team's hands or take a more lucrative KHL offer. Will players hold to that? As one exec said: "The teams with money don't have room, the teams with cap space don't have money."

5. Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini told The Vancouver Province that Daniel and Henrik Sedin are "close" to contract extensions. The first major face-to-face meeting between the two sides took place Friday. While no offers were exchanged, both sides will prepare proposals and the real serious work begins once the team returns from this week's retreat.

6. So what does "close" mean? It means the Canucks weren't terrified by what the twins and agent J.P. Barry had to say. Clearly, both sides want this. So there are reasons for optimism. Although as one source reminded me: "Last time, it took a year to get done."

7. Incoming Canucks head coach John Tortorella is known for his brutal skate tests at training camp. What do his new players expect? Ryan Kesler: "He's said it won't be as bad as some of his previous ones, but a version if it."

8. Martin Brodeur on the New Jersey Devils: "We've lost that identity of what Devils hockey is all about ... [Ilya Kovalchuk, now in KHL,] took a lot of minutes off of everybody and everything had to go through him -- like the two-minute power play. It was hard to adjust yourself sometimes because he needed his minutes. We never had that in New Jersey. Everybody was playing on the same page. We had some great players -- Zach [Parise] -- they played the way we played ... I think we'll be able to get back to that."

9. Brodeur was one of Kovalchuk's biggest defenders while they were teammates. Was he disappointed about the departure? "Oh, definitely ... Look what [the Devils] did to get him to New Jersey. Losing some of the draft picks, some of the current players, the money that was thrown at him, for him just to walk out like that ... I know him and it's just not like him to do that. The lockout created everything -- the taste of what his life would be in Russia and he liked it ... But it affects us, so that's why I'm disappointed ... As a guy, he's a great guy, still going to have a lot of fun with him, but at the end of the day, it's a tough one for what the organization did to get him."

10. The long-term effect of Kovalchuk's choice is this: team decision-makers believed that when the best players got to the NHL, they would stay. Alexander Radulov was an outlier, not the norm. That's shattered now. Teams may be publicly confident in their statements, but privately? There's great uncertainty.

11. Alexander Ovechkin on Kovalchuk: "It was his choice ... I don't want to say I'm happy for him. He makes his decision, but nothing I can say." Do Washington Capitals fans have any reason to worry about Ovechkin's future? "No worries, I'm playing for Capitals. I don't think they have to be too worried about it. I'm here and I don't want to go nowhere." 

12. Alex, will we see anything different from you this season? "Go to the net at a different level, I hope."

13. Do New York Rangers fans have any reason to worry about Henrik Lundqvist's future? "I'm not even thinking about it," he said Friday. "It doesn't matter, contract or no contract ... I just want to focus on the year. It is an important year for me and the organization. It's time for us to take a good step in the right direction."

14. It is expected there will be conversations this week between the Rangers and Don Meehan, Lundqvist's agent. Does the goalie agree with Phil Kessel about no talks during the season? Or is he like Dion Phaneuf, who doesn't mind? "We'll see. Hopefully, we'll have some good talks in the next couple of weeks. If we don't have a solution, we'll have another discussion on how to move forward."

15. Lundqvist will be 32 in March, which is the Rangers' biggest concern. His last three seasons were the best of his NHL career in save percentage. He was second, fourth and fifth overall among full-time starters during that time. I can't find a full-timer who had a save percentage of .920 after the age of 37, but I can find 23 who did it from 32-37, including Dominik Hasek (four times), Tim Thomas (four times), Patrick Roy (twice), Ed Belfour, Brodeur and Miikka Kiprusoff. Lundqvist's in that class, which would make it easier for me to take the risk.

16. Brodeur, by the way, had a great line when asked if he could see himself playing even longer as a potential backup to Cory Schneider: "I would be a bad backup ... I don't practise that hard."

17. Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy told Matt Duchene to get ready to start the season with Ryan O'Reilly. Duchene will centre that line. Roy indicated first-overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon will begin as the third-line centre behind Duchene and Paul Stastny.

18. A lot of surprise at Brian Burke's decision to join the Calgary Flames as president of hockey operations. He'd told people earlier in the summer that he wasn't interested, only to change his mind. The one thing everyone who knows him said? Some version of "No way he is going without control." There are a lot of layers in Calgary, a lot of people who like to call the shots.

19. The biggest question is "How does the organizational philosophy change?" Flames GM Jay Feaster and head coach Bob Hartley certainly wanted to give youth a chance and see who grabs the reigns now that the two biggest cornerstones (Jarome Iginla and Kiprusoff) are gone. There was thought of elevating a younger player or two into the team's leadership group, so they could understand the skills needed to run a dressing room. This is the time for a patient approach in southern Alberta and the fan base understands that.

20. I sent a tweet last week about a possible Miikka Kiprusoff retirement announcement to come (it happened Monday morning)and some fans thought he might play one more year. It would be a surprise to the organization, for sure. Every time Kiprusoff was asked about 2013-14, he said he was done. I do believe one of the reasons it wasn't announced over the summer was the Flames wanted to do it properly for a player who deserves a great sendoff.

21. Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish announced Ryan Nugent-Hopkins won't play any exhibition games to protect his injured shoulder. This could mean Taylor Hall gets some time at centre, which is interesting. Centres generally have more defensive responsibility. Both Hall and Jordan Eberle were told by the Canadian Olympic coaching staff that they had to prove they were 200-foot players to get any Sochi consideration.

22. "You watch teams that win the [Stanley] Cup and ... their best-skilled players are also the ones that are best in the defensive zone," Eberle said. He laughed when he mentioned the scores of Edmonton's blowout wins. "Those are the fun games. You watch the best teams, you've got to beat them 1-0, 2-1. When we played the teams that do that, they were taking it to us. I think all of us are sick and tried of hearing it takes time to be a good team. We want to be a good team now." Hall's quotes are very similar and, if he does play centre, his defensive play should improve by osmosis.

23. Eberle praised Sidney Crosby's defensive work, in particular. That will be a point of emphasis for the Pittsburgh Penguins captain. "Over 82 games, it's easy to go through spans where you're not paying attention it," Crosby said last week. "As an offensive player, you're always looking to score goals and create offence ... It's just natural that you don't spend enough time on it ... In those tight games, big situations like that can make a difference."

24. Crosby on Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara's punch to his surgically repaired jaw in last year's Eastern Conference final: "I think you saw my reaction in the rest of Game 1, I wasn't too happy about it," he said with a laugh. "I don't know if he meant to hit me in the head. It was a pretty good punch ... He's a pretty strong guy, it didn't feel too good. Especially coming off the injury I did, that's the last thing I wanted ... Guys are going to do what they need to do to shut you down ... Kind of crossed the line a little bit, but you toe the line in the playoffs and sometimes it gets crossed."

25. Ryan Getzlaf of Anaheim Ducks teammate Teemu Selanne saying this is his final season: "I'll believe that when I see it. He's been saying that for six years."

26. Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators changed his summer workout routine to ease the burden on his back. "Less weightlifting, a lot more movement-based and flexibility-based [exercises]," he said. Heavily motivated by his omission from the Olympic camp, Spezza arrives with a Chara-sized chip on his shoulder. "My game is a lot better now than it was four, five years ago -- defensively and more complete. The way to get absolute respect as a player is to be part of a winning team and that is my focus. I've had lots of individual success, scored lots of goals, got lots of points, but ... I have to win a Stanley Cup."

27. Working theory: Team Canada purposely did not invite Cam Ward to its summer camp as a motivational tactic. "I could see that," said Eric Staal, Ward's teammate in Carolina. The Hurricanes seem pretty excited about Ward's frame of mind coming into this season.

28. Those who ridicule the emphasis on bigger ice at the Sochi Olympics point out that, in 2002, when Canada won in Salt Lake City, it was an international-sized surface. Or was it? "No," said Ken Hitchcock, one of Canada's coaches. "It was 200-by-94-by-95, I can't remember which ... We measured it. The corners were much like an NHL rink." IIHF regulations are 200x100.

29. If he was anywhere near healthy, have to figure Darren Helm would have been in Calgary, too.

30. Tim Thompson, who does many of the opening videos for Hockey Night in Canada, is working on a piece about players' musical choices. There were some surprising responses. Crosby, a fan of Great Big Sea (which played at his Stanley Cup party), sheepishly admitted liking "Wake Me Up" by Avicii, a Swedish DJ. The biggest stunner was St. Louis Blues captain David Backes praising the motivational messages of Matisyahu, a Hebrew hip-hop artist. The NHLer who said he prefers Katy Perry? We'll keep that one a secret for his own sake.

Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC

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