NHLPA targets hits to head

The NHL Players Association would like to see a league rule that would penalize intentional hits to the head.

The NHL Players Association would like to see a league rule that would penalize intentional hits to the head.

Union boss Paul Kelly proposed the rule while giving a presentation at the NHL's general managers meeting Monday morning. He would like referees to have the option of handing out a minor, major or match penalty to players that "intentionally or recklessly" target the head of another player.

It's a big issue for his membership.

"That's probably the most significant concern on the part of players," said Kelly. "I would say better than three-quarters believe that we need to have a new rule on hits to the head, that protects players.

"We're looking for not all hits to the head — there are accidental and inadvertent hits that don't cause a great deal of injury."

That is the key difference from a rule the Ontario Hockey League introduced this season where all headshots are penalized.

NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell has tried to discourage headshots by handing out larger suspensions this year. Defencemen Denis Gauthier (Los Angeles) and Brendan Witt (New York Islanders) each received recent five-game suspensions for elbowing an opposing player in the head.

However, the NHLPA's rule change would give referees the power to hand out penalties on the spot.

That would mean a hit like the one Islanders forward Doug Weight laid on Carolina's Brandon Sutter earlier this season would become illegal. On that play, Sutter had his head down and was reaching for the puck when Weight knocked him out with a shoulder to the head.

Even though Kelly declined to discuss specific hits, he spoke clearly about the rule.

"We're talking about the unsuspecting player — the guy who is in a vulnerable position — who gets hit from a player who either intentionally or recklessly targets the head of the player," said Kelly. "Whether he strikes him with his shoulder or some other body part, it's the view of the players that those types of hits need to be eliminated from the game.

"It's a pure safety issue."

The union's presentation also touched briefly on fighting, which will be the central topic of the three-day meetings. Kelly said the players are open to changes that could make fights safer.