NHL won't ban all hits to the head but will focus on boarding, charging
Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday that the NHL’s general managers haven’t shown enough support for an outright ban on hits to the head but the league will continue to focus on “dangerous hits; hits when a player is vulnerable, or engaged with another player and a third player comes in, or where there is excessive force.”
Bettman made his remarks following the second day of the general managers’ meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. This year’s session has been dominated by issues related to concussions and head injuries, spurred by the emotional reaction of hockey fans, players and executives to last week’s hit by Boston’s Zdeno Chara on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty. The Canadiens forward suffered a concussion and fractured vertebra but Chara was not fined or suspended.
The hit, in which Pacioretty’s head hit an unpadded stanchion near the players’ bench, led Bettman on Monday to introduce a five-point plan that includes improving padding and replacing the unforgiving seamless glass still used in some rinks.
General managers met Tuesday in small groups and en masse. In a transcript posted on the league’s website, Bettman said the executives’ consensus was they should focus on boarding and charging infractions “particularly in terms of seeking stricter enforcement, more aggressive enforcement."
“And in that regard, we are going to be looking to articulate a standard, which is consistent with being stricter, more aggressive, in terms of the enforcement, a standard that the officials and the players can be comfortable with and we'll take out some of the acts that are not being called as boarding or charging and making them penalties and perhaps beyond.
“In that regard, we are also looking at hits and boarding calls or non-calls below the goal line, and we want to look at the force and the distance traveled, particularly in that context, as well.”
He also said general managers favor longer suspensions for head hits inflicted by repeat offenders and would support punishing players and clubs for the actions of those repeat offenders.
Any new rules or changes to existing rules recommended by general managers must be considered by the competition committee and approved by the league’s Board of Governors before they can take effect. The governors are scheduled to meet again in June, during the Stanley Cup final.
A committee appointed Monday by Bettman will work with the league’s hockey operations department to examine ways the recommendations can be implemented. The committee is comprised of Brendan Shanahan, former King Rob Blake, Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman and Dallas Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk.
-- Helene Elliott
Photo: Combination photo shows Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (left) as he hits Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty into a glass stanchion during the second period of NHL hockey play in Montreal, March 8, 2011. According to media reports, Pacioretty suffered a broken vertebra and severe concussion on the play. Credit: Shaun Best / Reuters