Earlier this summer, the NHL’s Board of Governors decided to make further tweaks to its rules regarding penalty and suspension-worthy hits in the hopes of reducing ugly checks and the troubling injuries that come with them. The meeting resulted in wording changes for Rules 41 (boarding) and 48 (illegal check to the head).
The changes to Rule 41 should make it easier for referees to make calls regarding boarding penalties. It now penalizes players who fail to avoid or minimize contact with a defenseless opponent along the boards. On the other hand, it also gives referees discretion if they believe the victim put himself into a vulnerable position in the last moment before a hit, making the conclusion unavoidable. (Referees will also make judgment calls about the severity of the impact.)
Rule 48 has been simplified with a significant deleted phrase. A hit will now be illegal if the head is the “principal point of contact” without the exception of a “blindside or lateral hit.” Debating the suspension-worthiness of a check last season often seemed like splitting hairs because of the “blindside or lateral hit” provision, so this should make things much clearer. Much like the boarding alteration, there is some leeway given to hitters if the recipient moved into that position at an inopportune moment.
While the wording has been changed, any grammar school teacher will tell you that some people are better visual learners. For that reason, the NHL decided to provide video explanations of the two changed rules.
First, here’s the video for Rule 48.
Now let’s take a look at the boarding-related changes to Rule 41.
(Am I the only one who thinks that it’s still kind of weird to view Brendan Shanahan in the role of league disciplinarian – or as an NHL executive in general, really?)
On paper, these changes seem like strong steps in the right direction. The league is also looking into other measures to make the game safer, but many make a valid argument that it still comes down to the players cleaning up their acts. Steven Stamkos has been outspoken about this subject, which you can see in the video below.
Whatever the case may be, the NHL needs to do what it can to minimize the odds for serious injuries. Using safer equipment and implementing more straightforward rules are two solid ways to move in the right direction, but the 2011-12 season will ultimately decide if Shanahan & Co. are on the correct course.