Marc Savard took a wicked shoulder to the head, delivered by Matt Cooke, in the Boston Bruins’ loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last Sunday. While Savard rests at home, the remainder of his season in jeopardy, the NHL General Managers are meeting in sunny Boca Raton discussing, among other things, the continuing problem with head shots. It’s not the first time that head shots have been discussed in earnest at GM meetings, but it may be the first time the meetings have started less than 24 hours after a textbook case of an intentional and wholly unnecessary blow. For those who have not yet seen the incident, Matt Cooke absolutely levels Savard with an open ice hit by targeting his head with his elbow after Savard had released his shot.
As Grant from Hockeyism astutely points out, even roller derby, a sport which is still fighting for recognition as a “real” sport, has very detailed and specific rules about appropriate contact points while on the rink (appropriate contact while at the afterparty is another issue entirely). Hockey, on the other hand, seems to be averse to the concept of specificity. This morning, the National Hockey League’s general managers “put forward a recommendation for a rule change to address hits to the head in league games.” Here is the official recommendation:
“A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact is not permitted.
A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.”
Here it is in language that makes sense:
“Hit a dude from the side, back, or when he’s not looking and you aim at the head, that’s illegal.
If you don’t comply, you might get a penalty of some sort and we’ll review it at some point and maybe something else will happen to you.”
And here is the existing language from the current NHL ruleset:
43.1 Charging – A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.
Charging shall mean the actions of a player or goalkeeper who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.
A minor, major or a major and a game misconduct shall be imposed on a player who charges a goalkeeper while the goalkeeper is within his goal crease.
46.1 Elbowing – Elbowing shall mean the use of an extended elbow in a manner that may or may not cause injury.
The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor penalty, based on the degree of violence, to a player or goalkeeper guilty of elbowing an opponent.
A major penalty, at the discretion of the Referee, shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who uses his elbow to foul an opponent. A major penalty must be imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent.
Personally, I see no distinguishing factors between the three. This “recommendation” now goes to the NHL and NHLPA competition committee and then to the NHL Board of Governors for final approval before it is passed. Does this mean anything? In my opinion, absolutely not. While I completely understand that with a problem such as this, creating an inflexible rule in hopes to avoid the Wheel of Justice or implementing the NHL’s Top Secret NHL Suspension Flowchart is nearly impossible. However, moving past vague language and making some sort, ANY sort, of strong statement is not. Because now the debate continues: How do we know what will differentiate between whether a minor or major penalty will be assessed? What’s involved in this after-the-fact review? And what constitutes “possible supplemental discipline?”
At the end of the day, all we have are more questions and fewer answers.