Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins remains off the ice. He has been suffering from a concussion since his head encountered Penguins Matt Cooke’s shoulder on March 7. At that time no rule existed in the NHL against the hit, but on Thursday the NHL instituted a new rule to address future collisions.
The new rule bans “lateral, back-pressure or blindside hits to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.” The rule does not ban direct hits or hits involving the body. To help explain this, the NHL has released a DVD to help teams understand the new rule. For the remainder of this season and through the playoffs, the rule will be enforced by supplemental discipline. In other words, no penalty will be incurred during the game. The league could suspend or fine a player if Colin Campbell, NHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations, deems the hit to violate the new rule.
The "no blindside hit" rule received the support of the owners and the players this week. NHL owners voted unanimously on Tuesday to adopt the new rule. Then the five-member NHL/NHLPA competition committee endorsed it on Wednesday, and by Thursday it received approval from the NHLPA executive committee. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued the following statement: “The elimination of these types of hits should significantly reduce the number of injuries, including concussions, without adversely affecting the level of physicality in the game.” For the sake of the players, let's hope so.
Unfortunately, success of the rule still depends on enforcement. The new rule does not provide any guidelines for suspensions. Doling out punishment still depends on Campbell’s discretion. Infractions by the same player should be met with increasingly severe suspensions. A marquee player committing an illegal hit should get the same suspension as anyone else.
While implementation of the new rule has taken place, the final language of the rule will undergo further design. During the off-season the players association has the opportunity to decide on-ice penalties. They will determine under which circumstances a hit will warrant a major or minor penalty. Ideally the amended rule would include exact number of days of suspension for various types of infractions.
In the meantime, credit must be given to the League players and owners for acting extraordinarily quickly in passing the player-protecting rule this late in the season.