Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kerrzy’s Notebook: That’s a Penalty (pending approval)!

The next time you see a player get blasted with a blindside shoulder to the head during an NHL game, you can rest easy knowing that there will be at least a minor penalty.

That is, if the league, the Players Association and the Board of Governors approve a recommendation put forward by the NHL's general managers to penalize "lateral, back or blindside hits."

With some reports pegging the average number of concussions per season in the NHL over the past three years at about 70, it’s definitely the right time to discuss ways of changing that. While headshots don’t account for all concussions, there’s no question they are part of the problem.

Here’s the exact wording the GM’s went with:

“A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.”

So next season if (for example) Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke decides to level an unsuspecting Bruins player like Marc Savard, he’ll get at least a minor penalty (while Savard will likely get at least a concussion and miss at least a few games).

That hit was timed perfectly – as in, right before the GM meetings, ensuring the topic was fresh in the minds of everyone. I’m sure that’s why Cooke did it.

I think the hope here is that the potential new rule will end the discrepancy between hits like that one from Cooke and the equally vicious Mike Richards hit on Florida’s David Booth – Cooke escaped without even a minor penalty, while Richards was assessed five and a game (for interference). Neither player was suspended afterwards though (see why here), which is interesting given the fact that Booth missed 45 games as a direct result of the Richards hit.

We won’t see these changes until next season (if they’re passed), but I see this as a step in the right direction for the league. What do you think?

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