Max Pacioretty

Will the NHL eventually make all hits to the head illegal?

For the second year in a row, the spring GM meetings will come right after a brutal hit jarred the hockey world even as the player who delivered the respective checks received no fine or suspension.

Last season, Matt Cooke’s hit placed Marc Savard on the shelf and blindside hits to the forefront of hockey debate in time for the GM meetings. This season, Sidney Crosby’s concussion issues and the much-discussed Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty will do the same for this season’s version.

Once again, some of the league’s most powerful figures must consider where to draw the line of violence. While ESPN’s Scott Burnside rightly asserts that the meetings will be the time in which change begins to take place, Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier wonders if the league will eventually take a drastic step toward curbing hits to the head.

That step would be simple yet radical: will the NHL eventually make all hits to the head illegal? Various GMs discussed the concept with The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek.

“To the extent that there are 360 degrees around a player’s head in a circle,” Regier said, “and we’re now covering off under the current rules, I don’t know how many degrees. But I would think, ultimately, we will have to consider 360 degrees [for hits to the head].

“That’s the easy part. The really hard part is the role and responsibility that Colin [Campbell, the NHL’s senior vice-president of hockey operations] has. If anyone watches enough games, the deciphering of that is really the hard part while maintaining the fabric of the game,” the Sabres GM said. “I wouldn’t view it as impossible. I would view it as doable, if that’s ultimately where we end up.”

A number of Regier’s colleagues, including Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, also believe the league will eventually need to make all head hits illegal. Others, such as Toronto Maple Leafs boss Brian Burke, fear such a shift might too radically undermine the fabric of the game.

They represent the ranks of the hawks and the doves. Ultimately, the meeting in Boca Raton will determine if enough support has been transferred from one camp to the other to effect an immediate rule change or to put in motion rules that could reduce the number of concussions in the game.

Obviously, there would be some inherent problems with establishing a zero tolerance policy toward hits to the head. One of the bigger issues would come in situations in which a player puts himself in direct risk (particularly if that player’s head is lower to the ice for whatever reason). For such a rule to work, there would have to be a certain level of fairness regarding players looking out for their own safety along with the safety of others.

The biggest strength to a no head shots policy is that there wouldn’t be much – if any- confusion regarding what is legal and illegal. Perhaps there would be hemming and hawing in determining where a hit landed (was it his chin or his shoulder?), but it makes a largely gray issue mostly black-and-white.

It’s tough to say if that would be the correct direction to take, but perhaps the NHL could test it out in the AHL before instituting the new rule?

Either way, only the blindest pom-pom waver would say that the current system is working. The league’s discipline system is in need of a dramatic overhaul, but perhaps making the issue more obvious would help.

What do you think? Should hits to the head be illegal across the board? If not, how should the league make the game safer for its players? Let us know in the comments.

Chara ‘more than likely’ to return from six-game absence tonight

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 7: Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins skates towards the face-off circle during first period action against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on March 7, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Bruins captain Zdeno Chara hasn’t been in the lineup since Nov. 22, but that all changes tonight when he returns for a key date against the Panthers at TD Garden.

B’s head coach Claude Julien called it “more than likely probable” (per NHL.com) that Chara will play for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury six games ago. It’s a huge addition for a Boston defense that has been without its veteran leader and fellow vet John-Michael Liles, who is currently sidelined with a concussion.

As a result of those two injuries, Julien has been rolling with a six-man defensive unit comprised of Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo, Joe Morrow and Colin Miller.

Krug saw an upward spike in minutes as a result, and it helped him get his season on track offensively — he has seven points in his last eight games, this after going scoreless through the first nine contests of the year.

Carlo has been receiving big minutes as well. The rookie blueliner played over 24 minutes in back-to-back games against the Flyers and Lightning last week, then had 23:33 in Saturday’s win over Buffalo.

Chara had been averaging just under 23 minutes per prior to getting hurt, so it’s safe to assume Krug and Carlo will go back to more conventional TOI tonight.

Goalie nods: ‘He’s here, he’s able to play, he plays’ — Sens welcome Anderson back versus Pens

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 24:  Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators celebrates with Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottawa Senators after the Senators scored against the Dallas Stars in the third period at American Airlines Center on November 24, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Craig Anderson, who left the Sens on Nov. 30 to be with his wife while she undergoes cancer treatment, returned to the club ahead of tonight’s game in Pittsburgh.

And even though Anderson’s backup, Mike Condon, is coming off a 24-save shutout of Florida, there was apparently no question about which goalie would face the Pens.

“He’s here,” Sens head coach Guy Boucher said of Anderson, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s able to play, he plays.”

Anderson has been terrific this season, posting a 12-5-1 record with a .930 save percentage and 2.20 GAA. He was especially dialed in over his last five starts prior to departing, stopping 143 of 153 shots (a .935 save percentage, which “ballooned” mostly due to his final game, a 5-4 loss to Buffalo).

Condon, who had a brief stint in Pittsburgh this season before getting dealt to Ottawa, has performed admirably as well. He’s posted a pair of shutouts and boasts an impressive .946 save percentage on the year. That effort, combined with Anderson’s rock-solid play, has made Andrew Hammond the odd man out in Ottawa (The Hamburglar was reassigned to AHL Binghamton today).

Marc-Andre Fleury will get the nod for Pittsburgh. He’s riding a bit of a hot streak, having stopped 61 of his last 65 shots faced in consecutive victories.

Elsewhere…

— Good matchup in Boston, as Tuukka Rask and the B’s host Roberto Luongo and the Panthers. Rask currently sits third in the NHL with a .941 save percentage, while Luongo is 12th at .929.

Robin Lehner, who returned from a one-game absence to make 31 saves in a loss to Boston on Saturday, starts for the Sabres. The host Capitals will once again turn to their workhorse, Braden Holtby, who looks to snap a three-game losing streak.

— After Mike Smith made a career-high 58 saves in a shootout loss to the Jackets on Saturday, Louis Domingue gives him a breather as the two teams meet again tonight. Sergei Bobrovsky will be in for the Jackets, after Curtis McElhinney got the win over the weekend.

Canucks’ Dorsett to have neck surgery, reportedly done for season

Derek Dorsett, Kyle Brodziak
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The Vancouver Canucks will be without forward Derek Dorsett for a considerable while longer.

The Canucks announced today that Dorsett will undergo “cervical fusion surgery to repair disc degeneration in his neck.” The club expects him to “make a full recovery and return to play,” but no timeline could be provided at this point.

Dorsett’s surgery will be performed by Dr. Robert Watkins of the Marina Del Rey Hospital spine clinic in Los Angeles.

“The decision to perform surgery was made after a thorough review of our options, including non-surgical treatment and rehabilitation,” said GM Jim Benning in a release. “Derek, our Canucks medical team and Dr. [Robert] Watkins believe that surgery offers the best outcome both for his career and long-term health. Derek is an important member of our team and we are optimistic for a full recovery.”

Dorsett last played Nov. 17 against the Coyotes. He was forced to leave the game with what the Canucks called an upper-body injury.

The 29-year-old has one goal and three assists in 14 games this season. He still leads all Vancouver forwards with 35 hits and 33 PIM.

Dorsett is signed through 2018-19 for a cap hit of $2.65 million.

Update:

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Dorsett will not be back this season. The hope now is for a return next season.

Coroner concludes Svatos died of drug overdose

DENVER - NOVEMBER 25:  Marek Svatos #40 of the Colorado Avalanche skates during the game against the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center on November 25, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Former Avalanche forward Marek Svatos died early last month of a drug overdose, according to the coroner in Colorado.

The Denver Post is reporting that Svatos “had codeine, morphine and an anti-anxiety medication in his system when he died of combined drug intoxication.” The Douglas County coroner also concluded in its report that Svatos had a history of heroin abuse and depression.

“Drug paraphernalia was found at the scene,” the report said, per the Post.

Svatos was 34 when he died Nov. 5. He last played in the NHL for the Ottawa Senators in 2010-11, before finishing his career overseas.

As reported earlier by the Post, Svatos was living in the Denver area with his wife and two young sons.