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Proposing a ‘Headshot’ Rule for the NHL…

March 11, 2011

In light of recent activities on the head injury front, Air Canada has threatened to remove their sponsorship support from the NHL if it does not immediately address ‘headshots.’

Agent Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey was quoted as stating “I believe the NHL must place a total ban on all hits to the head whether intentional, incidental to physical contact or purely accidental.  On headshots, we need to remove the discretion of the on-ice officials as much as possible and move towards a rule where the threshold inquiry is whether contact was made with the head, not whether there was an intent to injure. The NHL must move swiftly in this direction to protect the game’s greatest assets and avoid the tragedy of god forbid a player dying on the ice from a blow to the head.”

This is all well and good to say, but how can it be enacted?

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL, Major Junior Hockey) has instituted rules in all three of its member leagues – Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Western Hockey League (WHL), and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

Rule 44B from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL)

Rule 44B – Checking to the Head
44B.1 Checking to the Head – The act of checking an opponent to the head in any manner.
44B.2 Minor Penalty – A minor penalty shall be assessed to any player who checks an opponent to the head area.
44B.3 Major plus Game Misconduct Penalty – At the discretion of the referee and based on the degree of impact a major penalty and a game misconduct can be assessed any player who checks an opponent to the head area.
44B.4 Match Penalty – A match penalty shall be assessed to any player who deliberately attempts to injure an opponent by checking to the head area.
Note: A hit to the head with a shoulder shall be considered an illegal check and shall be penalized as checking to the head.

The QMJHL has a similar rule 44B that allows for a major plus game misconduct or match penalty (no minor penalty is available). (currently cannot find a rulebook for the WHL).

Is it time for the NHL to institute a similar rule?  And even if the junior league rule was implemented, how does that remove the “incidental” or “purely accidental” hit to the head?  Without removing the ability of a player to eliminate another player from the play – how does this rule get enforced without allowing for the discretion of the on-ice officials?

For example, a big player (Chara) checks a significantly smaller player (Gomez, Briere). Smaller player has the puck and it is a legal play, not interference or any other similar infraction. How is it possible that no part of Chara shoulder/forearm, even his head – does not impact the smaller player’s head, even a little?  Or even appears to hit the smaller player’s head? Does this mean the bigger player cannot check a smaller player without fearing he may cost his team 5 and a game? Shoulder to shoulder is almost impossible (see pictures of Tyler Myers beside Nate Gerbe, for example). There are actually instances where hip – head contact would be possible if the smaller player were to try to scoot past.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to eliminate hits to the head. But removing the on-ice officials discretionary powers with respect to them would be ridiculous and lead to more “enhancement” or diving than ever before. Does anybody remember Mike Ribeiro? Enact a rule that removes hits to the head, but don’t tell me that it can remove ‘incidental’ or ‘accidental’ hits to the head without removing hitting entirely.

Just my two cents.

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