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A day of change for an embattled league

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By Stu Hackel

Say this for the NHL: This league can, at times, respond to the problems it faces with some degree of swiftness and decisiveness. The image of the league — which is well-earned and still deserved in some instances (like 15 years to rid the rinks of seamless glass)– is one of an organization that changes at a glacial speed. But the GM’s have met, discussed and deliberated some serious issues this week against the backdrop of a few truly harrowing incidents in the past few months. At times, those incidents made the game seem out of control, and the GMs recognized areas that needed to be fixed and have begun the process of fixing them.

They were able to do so because of some internal help — the Hockey Operations Department seems again to have gathered relevant statistics, video and other evidence to crystallize the issues, and influential owners have gotten involved. There has also been some external help — the scientific evidence of progressive brain disease in former enforcers, as well as reaction by fans, media and, for the first time, sponsors to some of the worst situations the NHL has witnessed in a while.

Some of the changes being proposed this week in Boca Raton have been in the works for quite a while. A few have been more immediate responses to newer events. But if the league was hoping to answer its critics and allay the fears of fans and sponsors, it did a good job. Now comes the hard part: getting all these good proposals and pronouncements to produce a safer game that continues to be entertaining (and TSN’s Bob McKenzie, speaking on Wednesday’s “Morning Show” over Montreal’s Team 990 radio, adds that how these proposals will look as rules is still unknown; his very interesting take can be heard on this page).

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  • Published On Mar 15, 2011
  • Spotlight’s on NHL GMs, head shots, discipline

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    Zdeno Chara’s devastating hit on Max Pacioretty turned up the heat on a long-simmering issue. (Jean-Yves Ahern/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    NHL general managers began meeting today in Boca Raton, Florida, and there is some thought that this gathering — coming after the increased public outcry against the rise in head injuries and the league’s leniency in punishing players who inflict them – may be the most important one in a while. Further steps to protect the head is a major agenda item.

    It’s uncertain at the moment how far the GMs will go in making changes to the existing rules and standards of supplemental discipline. But TSN, NBC and Sports Illustrated’s Pierre McGuire said on Ottawa radio Team 1200 (audio) that he had spoken to a number of GMs and league decision-makers and the GMs are “very serious.”  McGuire called them “an extremely motivated and focused group right now. They understand; they’re hearing the message of the fans. Most of the enlightened general managers don’t want to alienate the fan base of the National Hockey League and the corporate sponsors of the National Hockey League.”

    Just as last year when the GMs met in March in the shadow of the Matt Cooke – Marc Savard  blindside head shot, this year’s gathering will take place after Zdeno Chara’s hit badly injured Max Pacioretty, as well as a long string of incidents that includes the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby being out of the lineup since early January (Crosby skated today for the first time since being hit head-first into the boards by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on Jan. 5).

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  • Published On Mar 14, 2011
  • Players’ action needed to stop headshots

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    Being sent off for four games, as Boston’s Daniel Paille has been, for a headshot hurts a player’s wallet, but the NHLPA must know the cost of a concussion is greater. (Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Joe Haggerty of Comcast Sportsnet New England broke the story on Sunday that the Bruins will shut down Marc Savard for the season after the “moderate concussion” (as if there is such a thing) the center suffered last month. The speculation will now begin on whether Savard’s career is or should be at an end.

    But a larger discussion that somewhat faded in recent months should be revived: At what point will the NHL put some real teeth into the wrist-slapping suspensions it issues when a player blindsides an opponent with a check that targets the head?
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  • Published On Feb 07, 2011
  • Making sense of Gleason’s hit on Perreault

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    By Stu Hackel

    The Hurricanes lost to the Capitals, 3-2, on Sunday night and the game changed on this play…

    …as Carolina’s Tim Gleason hit Washington’s Mathieu Perreault near the end of the first period. It was a shot that sure looked like it targeted the head — despite Hurricanes TV analyst Tripp Tracy’s contention — but was not punished under the new Rule 48 that prohibits blindside or lateral blows to the head. That rule has been criticized as a half-measure in some quarters (including by former referee Kerry Fraser, who has called for the rule to include all hits to the head), but the NHL says it has seen a decrease in targeting of the head because the new rule is in place.
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  • Published On Dec 27, 2010


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