NHL GMs examine hits to head

NHL general managers on Monday tossed around the idea of assessing players a minor penalty as early as next season if they deliver a hit to the head.

Players could be assessed minor penalty as soon as next season

In light of Chris Pronger's one-game suspension, NHL players could be assessed a minor penalty as soon as next season if they deliver a hit to the head.

The league's 30 general managers met Monday and spent most of the time reviewing tape and talking about the issue, which has picked up steam after several incidents this season.

Pronger was barred for Monday's Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final in Ottawa after he laid out Senators forward Dean McAmmond with a forearm to the head early in the third period of Saturday's 5-3 Ottawa victory.

Specific language of the rule would have to be hammered out before it could pass through the NHL's competition committee and gain approval from the league's board of governors.

The consensus was that there would be enough time to do so over the summer.

"I think some level could be in place by next season," said Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe. "I think that there was enough appetite there, enough concern and debate."

Added Toronto Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson: "I think there'll be something there."

The biggest obstacle to it entering the rule book as an infraction will be outlining exactly what constitutes a hit to the head.

"There's going to be an attempt to draft some type of rule or enforcement provision about a hit directly to the head and nothing but the head," said Ducks GM Brian Burke. "My prediction is that it's going to be hard to draft that.

"Most of the hits we have to the head are also to some other part of the body so it's going to be hard to do. I think we owe it to our players to try."

Hot talking point

The issue has become a hot talking point in the league since Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil levelled Chris Drury of the Buffalo Sabres with a blindsided hit in February. No penalty was called on the play and Neil wasn't suspended. Drury missed four games with a concussion.

Sabres owner Thomas Golisano sent an open letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shortly after the incident saying that he was "deeply concerned" with head shots. The Buffalo organization was feeling better Monday after the issue was discussed at length.

"For me, for our organization, it's a step in the right direction," said Sabres GM Darcy Regier.

The general managers were clear about the fact they were happy with the amount of contact in the game.

As more than one pointed out, big hits often bring as much attention to hockey on sports highlight shows as pretty goals.

"There's lots of hitting in the game, everyone wants the hitting to continue," said Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough. "We want to make sure that the hitting is done in a tactical way at the body."

The GM's also discussed having bigger nets and instituting four-on-four overtime during the playoffs, but neither issue was met with much interest.

With files from the Canadian Press