NHLPA, league feud over headshots

The NHL and NHLPA finally agreed on something Wednesday, but it wasn't about the proposed headshot rule.

The NHLPA isn't willing to fast-track the NHL general managers' proposal for a penalty for blindside headshots.

But the five players who sit on the NHL's competition committee are willing to accept supplementary discipline discipline on such dangerous hits this season instead of on-ice two-minute or major penalties for such incidents.

"We have deliberated and endorsed to the NHLPA executive board the league's proposal to implement supplemental discipline this season for blindside hits to the head," the committee said in a statement. "Our executive board will vote on this recommendation and we will respond back to the league with a decision in the next 24 to 48 hours."

The league, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, has agreed to wait until Thursday before proceeding with implementation. "Our strong preference remains to proceed on a co-operative basis with the players on this important issue."

At least a couple players were not amused that the NHL decided to announce on Tuesday that the board of governors "unanimously approved a rule prohibiting a lateral, back-pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact. The timing and details of implementation are being worked on by the NHL’s hockey operations department in conjunction with representatives of the NHL Players’ Association."

The players called it a public relations ploy by the league and an attempt to discredit the players for not fast-tracking the proposal before the regular season concludes.

Having the board of governors vote before the five players on the competition committee approve the proposed rule change was not the protocol set up by the current collective bargaining agreement.

The five players on the committee – Brian Campbell, Jeff Halpern, Ryan Miller, Mathieu Schneider, Jason Spezza – was supposed to sign off on the rule change before the NHL board decides.

The five players just received the DVD and memorandum that distinguishes the type of blindside hits that would be penalized.

The supplemental discipline would also apply to playoff games.

"We're still discussing it," said a player earlier on Wednesday. "The general managers had two full days to discuss this. We don't. We are trying to deal with this in a swift manner. But it's difficult. We all have games to play right now."

The bottom line is that with this matter being in-season, it is difficult for the five players to get together in order to draw a conclusion.

To illustrate this point, check out Spezza's recent schedule. Since he received the necessary information last week, his Ottawa Senators played in Dallas on Saturday, then in Montreal on Monday and were back home against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

His fellow committee member Miller will be in action with his Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday.

"This is a power play by the league," said a player. "The NHLPA wanted a headshot rule last year and nothing was done. The league talked about this last fall [at the general managers’ meeting in Toronto] and didn’t do anything about it until March. It's a mess that we can't be rushed into cleaning up."

Spezza expressed on Monday that the players support a rule change right now as a band-aid solution with an unspecified modification, but would like to revisit the issue in the summer to come up with a long-term answer to the controversial matter of headshots.

"I think almost everybody, if you ask the players, are in favour of doing something to get these cheapshots and head shots out of the game," Toronto Maple Leafs forward Rickard Wallin told The Canadian Press Wednesday. "Obviously everybody wants the sport to be physical. Big hits are part of the game. I just feel like it's a good thing to get something done before somebody gets even more seriously hurt than the guys that have been this year."

Late Tuesday, Daly issued this statement to ESPN.com and frequent Hockey Night In Canada contributor Pierre LeBrun: "Without trying to throw anyone under the bus here, let's be real. This is a rule that's intended to make the game safer for the players. It's a no-brainer. The PA needs a hockey person, or at a minimum a player, who is willing to take charge, to step up and make a decision in the best interests of the game.

"It's one thing to 'punt' on all the more mundane issues surrounding the game until the [NHLPA] has a new executive director and a clear direction. We are used to that. But this is different. Someone needs to show leadership, and they need to do it fast."

When asked on Wednesday if his view has changed, Daly responded in an email "nothing new from here."

The NHLPA responded in a statement that the procedure in the CBA must be followed.

"To date, the competition committee has neither agreed on a proposal, nor forwarded a proposal to the board of governors for its vote. As we have previously stated, the NHLPA's competition committee members are finalizing their response to the NHL's proposal regarding blindside hits to the head and will be responding to the league this week," the statement said.