NHL referees will be given the power to hand out major penalties for hits to the head next season if a recommendation from the competition committee receives its expected approval.
The 10-man group agreed on the new penalty during a meeting at the NHL's Toronto office on Friday and passed it along to the league's board of governors. The board meets next week in Los Angeles and must give final approval to the recommendation -- a step that is usually little more than a formality.
The specific wording of the new penalty wasn't disclosed but NHL executive Brendan Shanahan says head hits will be subject to a major penalty and game misconduct, as well as supplemental discipline.
An official recommendation from the competition committee — which is comprised of players, general managers and Flyers owner Ed Snider — marks a bit of a breakthrough after years of discussion on the topic.
"In the end, we knew that we all wanted to get to the same place," said Shanahan, the NHL's vice-president of hockey and business development. "We all had the same goal. That's why you have a committee like this, the sharing of information."
The competition committee was created as part of the collective bargaining agreement that ended the 2004-05 lockout. However, the league and NHL Players' Association have expressed differing views on its importance at times.
When the 30 GMs proposed a penalty for blindside hits to the head in March, the union balked at its immediate enactment because it hadn't been discussed by the competition committee. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly countered by suggesting a rule could be put in place without the committee's blessing.
Role of group
Part of Friday's discussion was about the role of the group.
"I think we're both happy where it ended up," said Mathieu Schneider, one of five players on the committee. "It's definitely an important part of our partnership with the NHL. We were all in agreement on that."
The players have long been in favour of penalty for hits to the head. The GMs were cool to the idea until a series of ugly incidents this season, notably the hit Mike Richards put on David Booth in October and the one Matt Cooke had on Marc Savard the night before the managers met in March.
Since then, it's been clear that some changes were needed.
"I think things have happened since the lockout, since the rule changes, that were probably unforeseen," said Schneider, who played for Phoenix last season. "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."
A concern for all involved was coming up with a rule that wouldn't take much contact out of the game. Schneider emphasized that he only wanted to see "gratuitous" and "intentional" head hits eliminated.
Poring over video
The GMs and players have each watched video containing hundreds of different bodychecks that impact the head.
"There still has to be a certain amount of onus on the player — he has a responsibility to keep his head up, to know where he is on the ice," said Schneider. "You don't want to take that part out of the game. Certain hits that we watched, players were — for lack of a better term — they were stupid. They put themselves in a vulnerable position.
"We want to keep that physical play in there. You have to be aware when you come through centre ice."
There were several different people involved in Friday's competition committee meeting — the 10 voting members, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Daly, league disciplinarian Colin Campbell and Donald Fehr, who is working as an unpaid adviser for the NHLPA.
In addition to the proposed head shot penalty, the group also came to an agreement on new regulations for form-fitting goalie equipment and gave a thumbs-up to the league's proposed Heritage Classic outdoor game in Calgary next February.
Members of the group felt it was a successful session.
"I think overall it was one of the best meetings I've been involved with in three years," said Schneider.
Added Shanahan: "It was a really good meeting. It went well. The players had some good input and that's why we have this committee."