NHL gets hit over head with reasons for new rule

Several weeks ago I borrowed The Code by Ross Bernstein from one of the Kent State hockey players. I was asking for blog topics on my Facebook status, and he thought the book might give me some good ideas for a post about fighting. Then my fighting post was put off by the latest hot topic in hockey violence. Right before the NHL general managers’ meetings kicked off, Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke served a dangerous head shot to Boston’s Marc Savard on March 7. The GMs had planned on discussing hits to the head, but that agenda item suddenly held new prominence at the meetings. 

Boston's Marc Savard is wheeled off the ice on a stretcher following a hit to the head from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.

Boston's Marc Savard is wheeled off the ice on a stretcher following a hit to the head from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke. Photo by Associated Press.

The GMs announced that hits to the head will now be punished. Specifically, the managers’ statement said, “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.” 

Normally decisions made at the GM meetings take effect in the following season. However, with the hits that have been popping up more frequently in the past two weeks many are pushing for immediate enforcement of the new rule. Here’s an example of a bad hit courtesy of HockeyWebCast and Fox Sports. The clip shows a hit given out and a hit received by Chicago’s Brent Seabrook. 

According to Pierre LeBrun’s ESPN hockey blog, if the new rule is passed this season, it will only allow for “supplemental discipline regarding blindside hits” until next season. Personally, I’m all for the immediate implementation of the rule. Absolutely no good comes from hits to the head. And it seems that many in the hockey blogosphere agree. Jack Todd from The Montreal Gazette and Tom Murray from ESPN both made very convincing points about how dangerous those hits are. 

Brent Seabrook hit

Chicago's Brent Seabrook falls to the ice after his head was slammed into the glass. Photo by Victor Decolongon, Getty Images.

I’m reading The Code right now, so I have a new understanding of how fighting impacts the game. I’m learning about how a fight at a pivotal moment can change the game and how sometimes players can police the game better themselves through the threat of a fight. Some people say those fights are too violent, and when the fights end badly it creates a negative buzz about the NHL. However, those fights generally serve a purpose. These vicious hits to the head during game play serve no purpose in my mind. Players just end up injured, and hockey gets a bad name in the process. From a PR perspective, when a moment in the NHL finally gets covered in the media, I would much rather have that moment be a hat trick or an overtime goal than a hit to the head that ended a player’s season. 

For the sake of the game, and to maintain some honor on the ice, I hope that the new rule makes a difference in the league. How do you think this will change the game?

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