Versus ran a special episode of “NHL Live” that featured in-depth information regarding the league’s “concussion epidemic.” You can read some PHT pieces on the subject here, here and here. In the video below, Keith Jones and Pierre McGuire discuss how Rule No. 48 and other measures are sending a message to cut down on hits to the head.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
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.
Considering the many headlines generated by Sidney Crosby’s continued struggles with post-concussion syndrome, it only makes sense that there might be a ripple effect. It’s one of those situations in which a prominent figure’s struggles shines an even brighter light on an already growing problem.
Montreal’s 2011 Molson Export Quebec Hockey Summit is one of the first big gatherings of hockey minds since the latest round of Crosby updates/rumors surfaced, so it only makes sense that troublesome hits are being discussed.
The first bit of interesting news is that Hockey Canada is hoping to give youth hockey players more options when it comes to playing in non-checking leagues along with enacting a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to hits to the head. Vice president of hockey development Paul Carson addressed the changes they are about to institute and ones that they are pondering during the summit, which ends tomorrow.
“We need to be able to react in a positive way and make these changes, and control what we can control,” Carson said.
“Organizations like the CHL, the NHL — they all have their own responsibilities to look at the trends and determine what changes need to occur to create a safer environment for the players.
“Our job is to look at the grassroots level and respond accordingly.”
The Canadian Press points out that body checks are introduced at the peewee level (for children as young as 11 years old) in Canada, although Quebec is the exception as hitting isn’t introduced until the bantam level (13-14 years old). Carson hopes to give young players more options to ease into the physical side of the sport, including a process that would gradually introduce physicality. The CP reports that well-known hockey figures such as Luc Robitaille, Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin and Philadelphia Flyers checking forward Max Talbot are involved in the summit.
While Carson & Co. look for ways to address hitting at the sport’s roots, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) hopes to take a “proactive stance” toward hits to the head as well. It’s not clear what exactly that means just yet, although that new stance might be clearer after the summit is over.
During the Board of Governors meeting held just prior to the start of the 2011 Molson Export Quebec Hockey Summit in Montreal, the Governors took a proactive stance regarding hits to the head, mandating the League to come up with new protocols to educate teams and players in order to eliminate hits to the head.
“The Board of Govenors made it very clear that player safety must be at the forefront of the discussions,” said QMJHL Commissioner, Gilles Courteau. “I am extremely pleased with the proactive stance adopted by our clubs regarding player safety in our great game. Player safety will be one of the key topics discussed at the Summit and I certainly look forward sharing ideas with our partners.”
On a more tangible level, the QMJHL approved a measure to have four on-ice officials for every regular season and playoff game next season. The junior league expects that measure to increase overall safety.
Ultimately, increasing the safety of the sport will likely be a gradual process without an obvious quick-fix solution. Even banning hits to the head won’t make them go away altogether; the hope is just that having clear-cut rules (and perhaps harsh punishments for rule violations) would force would-be repeat offenders to think twice before delivering a malicious hit.
Taking contact out of the game at its highest levels would rob the sport of one of its most thrilling features, but finding ways to reduce the risks for younger players is a great start toward improving player safety. We’ll keep an eye on the summit and other developments that might affect the way hits are delivered – especially since those changes could make their way to the NHL level at some point, too.
The NHL Board of Governors voted on three important changes today. One involved officially approving the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise to Winnipeg. The two other major decisions revolved around changing the wording of rules in the hopes of giving referees and league disciplinarians (such as Brendan Shanahan) a better chance of policing questionable hits.
The BOG approved wording changes for Rule 41 (boarding) and Rule 48 (illegal hits to the head).
Before we provide you with the full rules, here is a basic summary of how each rule has been altered.
Rule 41 has been changed so that it penalizes players who fail to avoid or minimize contact with a defenseless opponent along the boards. NHL.com points out that it also gives referees some discretion to determine if the victim of a hit put himself into a vulnerable position just moments before the hit happened, making the conclusion unavoidable.
Rule 48 received essential deletions: a hit will be illegal if the head is the “principal point of contact” with the “blindside or lateral hit” phrases taken out of the description. This change will be welcomed by many who thought that the “blindside or lateral hit” language allowed disciplinarians too much leeway to let offending parties off without a penalty. Most of the gray area has been removed.
New Wording of Rule 41 – Boarding
41.1 Boarding – A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.
There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the referees when applying this rule.
Any unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an obvious “icing” or “off-side” play which results in that player hitting or impacting the boards is “boarding” and must be penalized as such. In other instances where there is no contact with the boards, it should be treated as “charging.”New Wording of Rule 48 – Illegal Check to the Head
48.1 Illegal Check To The Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was unavoidable, can be considered.
48.2 Minor Penalty – For violation of this rule, a minor penalty shall be assessed.
48.3 Major Penalty – There is no provision for a major penalty for this rule.
48.4 Game Misconduct – There is no provision for a game misconduct for this rule.
48.5 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.
If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion.
The easiest way to remove much of the confusion regarding controversial hits is to set obvious, black-and-white boundaries for what is legal and what is illegal.
That being said, the easiest way isn’t always the right way. While Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier (and other GMs) feels like the league will eventually make all hits to the head illegal, it won’t happen yet. The NHL GMs decided not to recommend a ban of all head shots today, instead opting to put a heightened emphasis on penalizing teams and players for charging and boarding penalties.
As we discussed yesterday, Gary Bettman also proposed longer suspensions for repeat offenders and illegal hits, even if the league’s commissioner decided not to provide specifics. (Mario Lemieux’s letter went that extra step, though.)
Again, it would certainly be clearer if the NHL just went ahead and made all hits to the head illegal, but some worry that would mar a game that is at its best when it is physically intense. For better or worse, the league isn’t ready to take what would be a radical step to remove hits that produce at least some of the sport’s concussions. (Until hockey is no longer a contact sport, concussions will likely be at least some part of the game.)
So what do you think? Should hits to the head be illegal or would that measure be too extreme? Let us know in the poll below.