When Mike Richards hit David Booth in October, it brought the head shot issue back to the fore. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES – Cam Neely’s touch of trepidation over the NHL’s new head-shot rule stems from the fact hockey is a reactionary game. With that in mind, it will be up to everyone involved off the ice to show a little restraint before immediately passing judgement with regard to the new legislation’s place in the game.
The NHL board of governors, as expected, voted unanimously to approve the rule proposal from the competition committee that will see players given a five-minute major and a game misconduct – with the possibility of supplemental discipline – for an “illegal check to the head.”
The key words here will be “lateral” and “blindside,” meaning a straight-on shot to the noggin with a shoulder should, in theory anyway, be considered legal.
Another key word is patience. When the NHL gave far more teeth to existing rules regarding obstruction after the 2004-05 lockout, there were cries that too many soft penalties were called for half-hearted hooks and the like. The voices subsided, however, as time passed and the vast majority of us came to embrace the new lay of the land once it was better understood. Neely knows players, coaches and, of course, referees, will need some time to figure out exactly how this new rule will be implemented, too.
“It’s still going to be a tough penalty to call,” said Neely, president of the Boston Bruins. “I don’t know if you’re going to get everybody happy; that’s the problem. But at least they’re making an attempt to get it out of the game.
“It’s such a reactionary sport. I think you’ll find teams will want that call when it doesn’t happen and if it does happen, they’ll say it probably shouldn’t have been called.”
The head shot issue really came into prominence during this past season, first when Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards flattened Florida Panthers David Booth back in October on a play Richards wasn’t suspended for, then again toward the end of the year when Pittsburgh agitator Matt Cooke caught Boston center Marc Savard with a check the latter never saw coming.
Like Richards, Cooke was not asked to sit out any games by the league, but would that hit fit the new criteria for a five-minute major and automatic game ejection with the chance for further sentencing?
“I believe it would have been a penalty,” Neely said.
Neely’s slight hesitation there confirms this rule, which is a vital step for the league, will require everybody involved in the game to use their head to temper potential knee-jerk reactions to what is sure to be – at least initially – a tricky bit of regulation.
Around the BOG
The five-hour BOG meeting, which occurred in Los Angeles on the eve of the draft, didn’t produce much else of substance, focussing mainly on some rather unspectacular league budget issues.
Commissioner Gary Bettman did, however, provide one small update on the Phoenix Coyotes’ ownership situation, telling board members the league isn’t, for lack of a better way of putting it, up in the City of Glendale’s grill on a consistent basis with regard to how it conducts its search for an owner.
“We explained where we were and how we’ve been letting the City of Glendale work its way though the process to see who it’s most comfortable with and what deal it can make before it gets to us,” he said. “Obviously it’s subject to board approval, but we’ve been letting the city bounce around and try and figure out who it wants to work with.
“I’m hopeful in the course of the summer, this will get resolved. And sooner, rather than later.”
Axing the business talk in favor of something more fun, there’s a sense this weekend’s draft could produce a high number of transactions, something Toronto GM Brian Burke loves to see.
“This is why it’s an exciting time,” Burke said of the trade buzz. “This is why you’re all here. It’s a great time of the year for our league. The trade activity that goes along with it is exciting, it generates interest, it sells tickets and the draft part is cool; watch these kids get their chance and hug their moms and go up on stage.
“We have the best draft in pro sports in terms of how it’s conducted and how enjoyable it is for our audience.”
As for how things will shake down at the top of the order, Neely claims he’s no more in the know than anybody else. The Edmonton Oilers are slated to draft first overall, one spot before Neely’s Bruins.
“Edmonton hasn’t really said anything, so it isn’t really (etched in stone), we’re still waiting, like everybody else to see what happens,” he said.
Sounds like Taylor, Tyler – or hey, maybe even trade – are still distinct possibilities as show-starters Friday night.
THN is in Los Angeles covering the NHL Entry Draft.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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