NHL looks at broadening headshot rule

The NHL is considering dropping the 'blindside' component of Rule 48. The league's general managers met before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final and came up with a recommended change to the rule that deals with illegal checks to the head.

League considering expanding definition of rule to include hits from all directions

Bruins' forward Nathan Horton lies motionless on the ice after taking a hit from Canucks' defenceman Aaron Rome during Game 3 on Monday night. (Winslow Townson/Associated Press)

There is an appetite among NHL general managers to broaden the year-old Rule 48 that prohibited lateral or East-West "blindside" hits to the head.

However, what exactly the new language of the rule is remains a secret.

NHL executive Brendan Shanahan and his blue-ribbon committee that studied headshots and concussions this season recommended to the 30 NHL general managers that the lateral headshot rule be expanded to include intentional North-South hits on defenceless players, including hits to the head that occur when an unsuspecting player gets pushed from behind into the boards.

But neither Shanahan nor any of the general managers would get specific because they want to give members of the league's competition committee a chance to have input into the recommendation and make possible tweaks to the new wording.

What was clear was a majority of the general managers agreed with the proposal made by Shanahan and his blue-ribbon committee members, NHL executive Rob Blake, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk.

"I don't want to get specific because I want a chance to hear from the players on this," Shanahan said on Wednesday. "Last year, was a good first stop with Rule 48. But like [NHL director of officiating] Terry Gregson said 'good rules evolve.'"

There was a cry from some, like Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, earlier this season to banish all hits to the head. He not only lost superstar Sidney Crosby for the final four months of the season and playoffs after he suffered a concussion, but Shero's teenage son Chris suffered a head injury playing minor hockey in Pittsburgh.

Shanahan remarked that his committee discussed the possibility of eliminating all head shots, but quite simply some hits to the head are incidental.

"There are good, clean, hard hits that result in incidental head hits," Shanahan said. "The general feeling is we want to make the game safe, but at the same time keep the physicality. It's a delicate line."

The next step

Shanahan and his committee studied historical video as well as different incidents from recent seasons to make their determination. The next step will be for Shanahan to seek approval from the league's competition committee next week. The competition committee will meet Monday in Boston.

Then the NHL board of governors has to adopt the Rule 48 alteration at its meeting in New York on June 21, the same day it is expected to adopt the franchise transfer to Winnipeg.

There will be an announcement later this week or over the weekend about five new members for the competition committee. On the players side, Mathieu Schneider and Mike Commodore need to be replaced. Bob Gainey, Kevin Lowe and Don Waddell have stepped down because of changes in their respective roles with the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg franchise.

The general managers, who stopped to discuss Shanahan's recommendations with reporters, like what they heard.

"Hits to the head is definitely a major issue that we want to do the best we can," Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said.

"I have been attending these meetings for the last 29 or 30 years," Nashville Predators GM David Poile added. "The game is way better than when I started as a general manager and I know the next meeting, and the next meeting after that, that we will continue to look at things. Today we took another step in the right direction in trying to eliminate dangerous hits from the game and made a safer environment for the players.

"But when we say that, all of us believe that the game has been the best it's been. The excitement. The skill of the players. The speed of the game. It's a great game. It's a physical game. It's a dangerous game. It's never going to be perfect. But today was another step to do the right thing and try to make the environment safe for the players."