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NHL general managers take first step in penalizing hits to head

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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NHL general managers take first step in penalizing hits to head

The Canadian Press
By:

The league's 30 general managers met for several hours Monday and spent most of the time reviewing tape and talking about the issue, which has picked up steam after several incidents this season. The NHL will have to come up with the specific language of the rule before it passes through the competition committee and is eventually approved by the board of governors.

The general feeling after the meeting seemed to be that there would be enough time for all of that to take place over the summer.

"I think some level could be in place by next season," said Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe. "I think that there was enough appetite there, enough concern and debate."

Added Toronto Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson: "I think there'll be something there."

The issue found it's way into the spotlight during this Stanley Cup after Anaheim defenceman Chris Pronger was suspended for Monday's Game 4 for hitting Dean McAmmond with a forearm to the head.

The biggest obstacle to it entering the rule book as an infraction will be outlining exactly what constitutes a hit to the head.

"There's going to be an attempt to draft some type of rule or enforcement provision about a hit directly to the head and nothing but the head," said Ducks GM Brian Burke. "My prediction is that it's going to be hard to draft that.

"Most of the hits we have to the head are also to some other part of the body so it's going to be hard to do. I think we owe it to our players to try."

The issue has become a hot talking point in the league since Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil levelled Chris Drury of the Buffalo Sabres with a blindsided hit in February. No penalty was called on the play and Neil wasn't suspended. Drury missed four games with a concussion.

Sabres owner Thomas Golisano sent an open letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shortly after the incident saying that he was "deeply concerned" with head shots. The Buffalo organization was feeling better Monday after the issue was discussed at length.

"For me, for our organization, it's a step in the right direction," said Sabres GM Darcy Regier.

The managers were clear about the fact that they were happy with the amount of contact in the game.

As more than one pointed out, big hits often bring as much attention to hockey on sports highlight shows as pretty goals.

"There's lots of hitting in the game, everyone wants the hitting to continue," said Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough. "We want to make sure that the hitting is done in a tactical way at the body."

The GM's also discussed discussed having bigger nets and instituting four-on-four overtime during the playoffs, but neither issue was met with much interest.

Risebrough was one of the general managers interested in bigger nets before the meeting.

"It was discussed but I can say there was not a great appetite to deal with it right now," he said. "I would even put myself in - a guy who was supportive - is not as supportive.

"I like what we have right now. There's been a lot of changes and sometimes they don't amount to more goals."

Some GM's were open to the idea of playing overtime games in the playoffs with four skaters on each team in an effort to avoid games dragging on into the night. However, not enough were interested to recommend a change to the rules.

Vancouver and Dallas played into a fourth overtime during the first round of the playoffs before Henrik Sedin scored to give the Canucks a win in the sixth-longest NHL game ever.

"I don't mind the fact that we played five-on-five for a long period of time before we finally ended the game," said Canucks GM Dave Nonis. "People talked about that game for a long time and that's not necessarily a bad thing."

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NHL general managers take first step in penalizing hits to head