GMs frame rule for hits to head

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- NHL general managers will recommend a rule change on blindside hits to the head, looking to protect players and punish those responsible in a game that has become faster and rougher.

The unanimous decision Wednesday came at the end of three days of meetings in which player head injuries was the predominant issue.

The GMs will recommend to the competition committee that referees call a minor or major penalty for any hit where the primary point of contact is the head. Such a violation would be reviewed for possibly further discipline.

"This is a great next step to take these types of hits out of our game and to deal with the perpetrators appropriately," Florida Panthers general manager Randy Sexton said.

The competition committee will make its review during the NHL finals. The committee is made up of five players, five GMs and Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider.

If approved, the proposal would go to the board of governors for ratification. The players have already signaled support and the new rule -- yet to be given a specific name -- could take effect next season.

"We look forward to receiving and reviewing the general managers' proposal," NHLPA spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon said in a statement. "Hits to the head, including blindside hits, are important issues facing the NHLPA membership. In order to appropriately address these issues, the NHLPA's competition committee members will thoroughly review this proposal and gather feedback from the membership prior to the committee's meeting this summer."

The general managers also agreed to send to the competition committee a proposal suggesting a tiebreaking format for the playoffs, favoring regulation and overtime wins and removing shootout wins from the total.

Colin Campbell, the NHL director for hockey operations, said it would be too difficult to adopt the rule on hits to the head this season because players and officials need to be educated about it.

"We're we are going is taking a completely legal hit now, with the shoulder, and saying from a certain aspect in the future, next year, that's going to be an illegal hit if delivered to the head," Campbell said. "Part two of that, which is a huge statement in the game, we're shifting some of the responsibility from the player getting hit to the player delivering the hit, which was never part of the game.

"You grew up you always had to have your head up, you'd get crap from your dad if you got hit when you were watching your pass. But now there's some responsibility on the guy delivering the hit," he said.

The discussions this week were largely an outgrowth of a hit to Panthers left winger David Booth this season. Booth was taken off the rink in a stretcher after a hit by Flyers captain Mike Richards on Oct. 24. Booth missed 45 days because of a concussion and is playing again.

"I don't think it's a cultural shift at all," Sexton said. "Hockey is a physical game and we want to maintain the physicality, but we want clean physical play. We want to maintain the integrity of our game."

The general managers contend the players would support the proposal as a step to make the game safer.

"This will never alleviate the problem because whenever you have a contact sport injuries can take place," said Lou Lamoriello, the general manager of the New Jersey Devils. "It's the same thing like quarterbacks in football -- they're still going to get hit, but it's when they're getting hit and how they're getting hit and that's exactly what my analogy is with this.

"We're putting in preventative medicine, and in my opinion it will go through and the players won't have a problem with this at all," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.