NHL must walk 'tightrope' on headshot rule: Burke

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said the NHL needs to walk a "tightrope" in how it handles the revised rule regarding head shots.

The NHL needs to walk a "tightrope" in how it handles the revised rule regarding head shots, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke says.

In an interview with Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman during Toronto’s pre-season game in Buffalo Saturday night, Burke was asked whether there’s confusion on the expanded Rule 48 in light of the two penalties Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf received this past week.

"We support and voted for the crackdown on headshots," Burke said. "The tightrope is to take out the silly stuff but keep the physicality of the game intact. And that’s what we’re wrestling with [and] that’s what the referees are going to wrestling with. We don’t expect them to get it all right in the pre-season, it’s a new rule [and] we’re all going to have to work through it."

During an exhibition tilt against the Ottawa Senators on Monday, Phaneuf nailed defenceman Tim Conboy along the boards, drawing an elbowing penalty. On Friday night’s contest against the Sabres, the Leafs’ defenceman caught Michael Ryan with a cross-ice shoulder hit midway through the third period, which drew a checking to the head penalty.

Both plays surprised Phaneuf, especially the hit on Conboy because one official told him it was an infraction while another said it was not.

Burke defended Phaneuf, justifying the two checks by pointing out new disciplinary boss Brendan Shanahan didn’t request a meeting with the blue-liner, one that might have led to a suspension.

"I think the hit last night [on Ryan] was shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-to-hip," he said. "A full body check that results in contact with the head is not a penalty in our league. I thought last night was a clean hit, I know the league looked at it and officially they didn’t schedule a hearing so they must have agreed. We’ve got to tread a very careful line here in my view. We want to take the silly stuff out of the game, but we have to keep hitting in our game too."

Early suspensions

Shanahan, who succeeded Colin Campbell as the NHL's vice-president of player safety on June 1, has already handed down suspensions, including 10 games to Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley on Thursday for a hit that that drove Leafs forward Darryl Boyce into the boards face-first. 

Burke, who was discipline czar in a previous stint, understands the pressure Shanahan is under but thinks he’ll do a good job.

"Brendan Shanahan was a hell of a hockey player," Burke said. "He played a true North American style. I think he understands the value of hitting in our game and I think he’ll be able to walk that tightrope."