Listening to Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini today, I’m wondering if the NHL is about to reassess and employ more stringent interpretations of existing rules with an eye to player safety.
I’m also thinking that doing so, in addition to amendments and additions made to the rule book regarding head-shots, is something worth looking at because it won’t remove the elements that make hockey what it is, it would simply apply reasonable standards — standards, one could argue, that once existed but have been stretched too far.
Would hockey become ringette if the NHL decided to take a stride or two away from what is now considered a reasonable run at an opposing player where it regards the charging rule?
Are we asking for Stars on Ice if officials interpret the existing rule on boarding more strictly? Is the concept the purpose of body contact is to separate an opposing player from the puck, rather than from his senses, just too un-YouTube for fans today?
Would turning things down a notch ruin the game?
IT’S IN THE BOOK
Head shots have been hogging the headlines in recent weeks and were high on the agenda at just-completed meetings of NHL general managers attended by Tambellini. Rightly so, given concerns about injuries in general and concussions in particular.
After listening to an interview Tambellini did with Bob Stauffer on Oilers Lunch today, it occurred to me the NHL might be able to scale back the mayhem and better protect players by tweaking interpretations of existing rules on boarding and charging, as opposed to trying to gut the game of its physical dimension. First, a partial definition the rules:
BOARDING RULE 41.1: A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the referee.
CHARGING RULE 42.1: A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.
Here’s what Tambellini told Stauffer about the tone of meetings where it regards the above.
"It’s a lot of the other things that have crept into our game," Tambellini said. "We see the excessive force in a boarding hit, the excessive force in a charging hit that maybe they’re not direct blows to the head, but they result in concussions to our players.
"I don’t know if the game has either evolved and we’ve all accepted it, whether players and media and fans, just that that’s a normal part of the game, but it shouldn’t be.
"That’s what the message was. The league really did a great job of showing us the progression of what it was like in the 1970s, 1980s up until now. The type of hits that evolved in our game. Going back to the definitions of what charging, what boarding are.
"When you read them, it really captured a lot of the things that we weren’t sure or not whether or not we should call. So many of these hits, excessive speed and distance travelled in a charge are resulting in concussions.
"Excessive hits to players who are vulnerable, not expecting, in a defensive zone against glass, and sometimes it’s not the right type of glass. There’s a lot of things that we can control to eliminate those type of hits. It’s a complex issue. It’s something that needs to be taken care of. I was pleased that the group was all on board that we wanted to eliminate as much as we possibly could . . ."
WHAT SAY YOU?
Would lessening the acceptable distance travelled and speed generated to deliver a check take the edge off the game? I’m not talking about reducing contact to an "Excuse me" bump, but rather something in the middle ground between that and "I’m going to bury this guy."
Would limiting the ferocity of hits delivered on or near the boards by a degree or two, whether a head shot is involved or not, make the game less appealing to fans? Would it be OK with the ticket-buyers if checks on the wall were intended to only knock the target into the first row of seats as opposed to the third row?
We keep hearing players today are bigger, stronger and faster than they used to be, and that’s provably true. So, instead of talking about making ice surfaces bigger — yes, owners will be clamouring to take out rows of prime seats in their buildings — might it not be simpler and more prudent to keep the size and speed of today’s players in mind when applying the existing rules?
It makes sense to me, but then I’m one of those sissies who is wondering if fighting still has a place in the game.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.