NHL Committee Putting Players at Risk by Stalling on Rule Change for Hits to Head


NHL Committee Putting Players at Risk by Stalling on Rule Change for Hits to Head Late Tuesday night, the NHL board of governors unanimously approved a proposed rule set forth earlier this month by the 30 general managers in the NHL. 

My first reaction: Well, it's about time.

The rule comes on the heels of far too many hits to the head, including the most recent injury to Bruins' top-line center Marc Savard, who suffered a Grade 2 concussion after a blindsided hit from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke on March 7.

In a perfect world, the proposed rule would take effect immediately. The problem is, there’s one more step in the process.

The new rule would prohibit hits on an unsuspecting player where the head is targeted and/or is the principal point of contact. It seems like a no-brainer to put the rule into place immediately, but per CBA policy, the rule cannot take effect until it first receives the support of the joint NHLPA/NHL competition committee, and is then endorsed by the NHL board of governors.

The players want the new rule, the GMs unanimously agreed on it at the recent meetings in Florida, and the board also approved its validity and purpose.

According to Jonathan Weatherdon, spokesman for the NHL Players’ Association, the NHLPA's competition committee members are finalizing their response to the NHL's proposal and will be responding to the league this week.

Doesn't this seem like a rather drawn-out process to ensure some important safety measures? It appears this competition committee has more clout than the general managers and NHL board of governors. So who are they?

The competition committee was formed out of the NHL lockout and is responsible for making recommendations to the NHL board of governors. The people who make up this group have been a revolving door of players and GMs. Right now, the five players on the committee are Coyotes defenseman Mathieu Schneider, Kings center Jeff Halpern, Senators center Jason Spezza, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell.

We already know that the GMs decided to move forward at the recent GM meetings, so what is the hold up?

"We're looking for a band-aid fix for the rest of the year in case something happens," said Spezza. "But for the long term, I think we have to sit down together and find a better solution than just tweaking a little rule. It has to be something that's talked about. It just seems everything's been sprung on us."

The delay in the decision-making process, according to Miller, goes further than just that.

"We are making sure all of our members are aware of what the league is recommending. After everyone knows the options, we will proceed. Even though it is the right direction, we can't surprise players with a rule while in season," said the Buffalo netminder.

There’s no surprise involved. Surprise is what happened to Marc Savard when he was laid out by Matt Cooke. Surprise came for the Boston Bruins when Colin Campbell couldn’t find an explanation in the rule book to justify a suspension for Cooke. And, now, even more surprise will come if another player is knocked cold on the ice because Miller and the rest of the competition committee was worried about springing this decision on players in the league.

But make no mistake about it: A unanimous decision has been reached by the GMs and NHL board of governors to make a modification to the rule effective immediately. There’s no surprise in that and players would have to adjust. 

As early as Wednesday night, every player, coach and managers from each NHL team, as well as each on-ice official will have seen a DVD detailing the new rule and will be made aware of the proposed policy change on the blindsided head shot.

It is possible the league could impose the new rule as early as Wednesday night, without the competition committee’s approval. And they may do just that. It may ruffle the PA's feathers a bit, but it would put the rule in place.

As Grace Hopper once said, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission."

In other words, make the rule active already and deal with the NHLPA's response on a counterproposal later. Move on with the rule change before another player takes a brutal hit to the head.

The permanent rule change will be voted on this summer and possibly put into effect for the start of the 2010-11 season. Until then, without a rule in place, players’ safety will be in jeopardy. 

Is that what the NHLPA wants — to put politics in place of safety? Get the rule passed already. Make the safety of the players the primary concern. It’s a no-brainer.

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