In last year’s NHL rulebook, here’s how Rule 48 concerning an illegal check to the head was written:
“A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.”
OK, now forget the “targeted” part, because here’s how the rule will be written this year, according to the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman:
“A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable.”
You’re going to ask the obvious follow-up. How do you determine if the hit is avoidable? There are three circumstances to be considered:
First, whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.
Second, whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.
Third, whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.
The rewording would seem to make it easier for the league to suspend a player, given it used to be pretty easy to say a player didn’t intentionally “target” the head. As Friedman writes, “it puts added onus on the hitter to avoid recklessness.”
On the other hand, it’s still pretty easy to argue contact to the head is unavoidable in certain hockey hits, so it will all depend how the league’s disciplinarians apply the rule.
Suffice to say, we’ll still be debating the suspension-worthiness of head shots in 2013-14.