NHL puts headshot rule into effect
ST. LOUIS — A rule prohibiting blows to the head was adopted and put into effect by the NHL Thursday, a rare in-season move fueled by outcry over several devastating hits it allowed to go unpunished.
The new statute prohibits "a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact." It was approved Tuesday by the Board of Governors and endorsed Thursday by the joint NHL / NHL Players' Association competition committee and the union's executive board.
The NHL's hockey operations department now can review such hits for the purpose of imposing supplementary discipline — a fine or suspension. However, it will not announce which hits are being reviewed.
Focusing on blind-side hits was key, Los Angeles Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said.
"Even though the game has changed and kids come up under different development I think intuitively players know when a player is vulnerable," he said. "And that's all they're saying: get your hit in but don't cripple the guy. That was never the intent."
Subjecting blows to the head to review isn't a major change because the NHL has the power to review any play and impose a fine or suspension.
However, there's now a foundation for punishing hits like those by Philadelphia's Mike Richards on Florida's David Booth and by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke on Boston's Marc Savard. Booth and Savard suffered severe concussions but Richards and Cooke were not suspended because they broke no rules.
"We believe this is the right thing to do for the game and for the safety of our players," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "The elimination of these types of hits should significantly reduce the number of injuries, including concussions, without adversely affecting the level of physicality in the game."
Lombardi said he's concerned whether players will know the limits and if on-ice officials will understand the rule and enforce it consistently. The league compiled a video of what's allowed and what isn't and distributed it to players. It's also posted at www.nhl.com.
"I think it's pretty straightforward the way they've done it with the blind-side hits. It shouldn't be that hard," Lombardi said. "It has some risks but you're balancing that against a kid like Booth who's out for the year. It's probably a fair compromise."
The NHLPA said it agreed to what it called a "temporary implementation" for this season and the playoffs so that the NHL and the competition committee can "develop and consider a proper and full-time rule, one that includes an on-ice penalty component, this summer."