New rules on head hits, boarding in focus

BOSTON – As part of Tuesday morning’s off-ice workouts at TD Garden, Bruins players watched video outlining the NHL’s new rules this season, most significantly the heightened governance on head hits and boarding.

Nationally, Sidney Crosby’s recovery from concussions suffered in hits by David Steckel and Victor Hedman has been the subject of much talk, and the Bruins have been impacted by head injuries as well -- see Nathan Horton, Marc Savard.

Such matters tend to generate impassioned reactions. Tuesday morning was no different.

With Brendan Shanahan taking the reins from Colin Campbell this summer as the league’s head disciplinarian, Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference -- who has been very vocal on the matter of head hits -- expected a historically gray area to be made much more black and white. After all, when you’re the new sheriff, you’ve got to draw the line early.

“If you think you’re going to get away with anything, you’re not kidding anybody,” Ference said. “You’re probably going to get made an example of if there’s anything borderline this year.

“Not every hit is malicious. Sometimes there is accidental contact, nobody’s disputing that. But there’s definitely a lot of repeat guys that do the same hit time and again. You’d think that if there’s ever a season -- with all the hits last year and this year combined -- to put an end to this stuff, now’s the time.”

When asked about the subject in the past, Bruins coach Claude Julien often has noted that the player on the receiving end sometimes deserves blame. He repeated those sentiments Tuesday.

“I think referees are going to end up having to use a lot more discretion and I'm sure there will be discussions and reviews as you go around,” he said. “But at least you're giving players some clear indication on what they are looking for.

“Let's stop putting all the responsibility on the guy hitting. Let's also put some responsibility on the guy being hit. If you're just relying on the rule to protect you, you're wrong. Decisions are made in fractions of a second, and sometimes that guy hitting doesn't have a chance to redeem himself or slow down so you have to protect yourself as well.”

The same could be said about boarding, Julien said.

“There's times where at the last second the guy turns his back,” Julien said. “It's pretty hard to slow down when he does that at the last second, but when a guy's in a vulnerable position you have time to maybe slack off a little bit and take some of that intensity off your hit. That's something that the referees will take into consideration.

"I like the direction they're taking. Of course, there's nothing in this game that's ever going to be black and white. A lot of it is some discretion, and I think that's where everybody has to take some responsibility.”