NHL not ready to penalize headshots

National Hockey League general managers met on Tuesday and opted not to institute an automatic penalty for a hit to the head.

National Hockey League general managers met on Tuesday and opted not to institute an automatic penalty for a hit to the head.

The impetus for the rule came from the National Hockey League Players' Association, which also pushed for it in a presentation to the league's general managers in March. The Ontario Hockey League bans hits to the head.

The league will continue to follow a practice in which disciplinarian Colin Campbell reviews plays to see if any punishment is warranted.

"Player safety is of paramount safety to us, so that's not the issue," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Hockey Night in Canadain an interview on Tuesday night. "The concern is if you go to a rule like the OHL there's too much unpredictability in terms of what happens when you make a big hit.

"A player snaps his head back, [and] there's lots of gamesmanship that can go on. We think using supplemental discipline where we can really evaluate what happened on the ice to see if the player who got hit was vulnerable, was he unsuspecting, was it a late hit —that's something we can do with suspensions and supplemental discipline."

NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly has said the association isn't concerned with accidental or inadvertent contact to the head.

That distinction ultimately meant little on Tuesday. Brian Burke told The Canadian Press that in the leagues where there's a mandatory penalty, there has been player uncertainty and less hitting.

"I know players seem to think it's important, and you hear Paul Kelly talk about it, but in our [GMs] room? No appetite," said Burke.

Burke again made the claim that such a rule reduces the amount of checks overall, which OHL president David Branch has repeatedly disputed publicly.

Kelly told CP on Tuesday night the response was disappointing, but that it's a particularly sensitive issue to veteran players and one that has the support of a majority of members.

"The system we have been using simply hasn't been sufficient to deter these type of potentially career-ending injuries," Kelly said. "I would think, frankly, that many of these GMs would feel some obligation to protect their star players."

Concussion specialist and neuropsychology consultant for the Canadian Hockey League, Michael Czarnota, was among a number of people surprised that Chicago Blackhawks forward Martin Havlat returned just three days after a thunderous hit to the head in Game 3 of the Western Conference final knocked him out.

"It's the NHL, it's the playoffs, so guys are willing to do a little bit more.… But it sure seemed that two days later was sort of pushing things," Czarnota told

Bettman deferred to the experts in the Havlat case.

"I leave that to the doctors, and we have pretty good standards for evaluating concussions," he said. "It's possible he was analyzed and checked out OK and he didn't feel well after the one game he played."

Havlat would suit up for the final two games of the series, although he saw a total of just 12 minutes of ice time after taking the blow.

With files from The Canadian Press