Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke got to where he is by thinking in a bold way, but bigger ideas aren’t always easy to make universal.
Burke has been pushing a “bear hug” rule for quite some now, which essentially would allow a checking player to “hug” an opponent while hitting him along the boards to brace for the impact. The negative side, naturally, is that the attacking player would undoubtedly be engaging in a form of obstruction in the process.
Perhaps that negative side is too much of a gray area for GMs to stomach, because Burke told James Mirtle that it didn’t work out. In fact, he was customarily dramatic about it.
“Bear hug had no support – no chance,” Burke said. “I got dirt kicked in my face again.”
Such an emo description makes me imagine other general managers making spit takes when he brings up the idea, even if they probably just voted “Nay” while shrugging their shoulders. (Kevin Lowe would have been more difficult about it, but he’s not the Edmonton Oilers GM anymore.)
However general managers reacted, there’s a method to Burke’s madness. Hits from behind are among the most dangerous in the game, but you cannot make them universally illegal without putting a team’s defense at a profound disadvantage. Burke’s idea would allow defenders to defend against the glass without getting suspended (or hurting someone badly).
Again, though, the gray area comes in when they were “hugging” to help someone not get injured and when they were just trying to slow an opponent who gained some ground down low or in the zone.
Where do you stand on the rule, then? It might be quite some time if GMs ever approve of such a measure, but it doesn’t mean the hockey world cannot debate its merits in the mean time.