Head-shot penalty effective in 2010-11

LOS ANGELES -- The NHL's board of governors unanimously approved a head-shot rule for next season Thursday, officially ending a year-long debate on the subject.

The new penalty, first recommended by the NHL's 30 general managers in March and tweaked by the competition committee last Friday in Toronto, will penalize blindside hits to the head with a five-minute major and game misconduct plus possible supplemental discipline.

"I'm happy about the rule and I'm glad we took the time to try to get it as right as we can," said Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, one of the driving forces behind the rule. "Now that we've put it in there we can watch it. If there's things we can do to make it better then I'm sure we'll do that.

"But this is a good step."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the only change to the rule originally proposed by the league's general managers and then approved by the competition committee was the removal of the phrase "back-pressure," which players felt was too vague.

The rule now prohibits "lateral or blindside hits to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact."

"I wish we had changed this rule a year ago," Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said. "Maybe we wouldn't have had those last two horrible incidents."

Burke referred to two nasty hits that went unpenalized during games last season, sparking relatively quick action on a new rule.

Philadelphia's Mike Richards landed a blindside hit on Florida's David Booth in October, keeping Booth out for 45 games with a concussion. Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke then leveled Boston's Marc Savard in March, sidelining the playmaker for the final 18 regular-season games and their first-round playoff series with a concussion.

Boston Bruins president Cam Neely, who both received and dished out more than his share of big hits during his Hall of Fame playing career, approved of the move.

"I don't know if they're going to make everybody happy, but at least they're making an attempt to get it out of the game," Neely said.

The rule, titled "Illegal Check to the Head," also gives the referee the ability to hand out a match penalty if he believes the player attempted to deliberately injure his opponent. Any player who receives two game misconducts under this rule, in the regular season or playoffs, will be suspended automatically for the next game.

For each subsequent game misconduct penalty, the automatic suspension will be increased by one game.

The board of governors met for five hours Thursday at a downtown hotel across the street from Staples Center, where the draft will begin with the first round Friday night. An economic status report took up much of the session, including a detailed breakdown of the numbers behind the new salary cap.

Earlier, the NHL and the NHL Players' Association jointly announced that next season's salary cap will be $59.4 million, up from $56.8 million. Teams must maintain a minimum payroll of $43.4 million.

The owners also got an update from deputy commissioner Bill Daly on the NHL's progress in selling the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes. Bettman and Daly have been monitoring talks between the city government of Glendale, Ariz., and various potential ownership groups working on a mutually agreeable lease for Jobing.com Arena.

"We showed them last year's budget, this year's budget, and everybody is completely comfortable with what's going on," Bettman said. "We've been leaving it to Glendale to figure out who they can make a deal with, but I'm hopeful in the course of the summer, things will get resolved."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.