This year, both the NHL and the NFL have tried to deal with the issue of headshots. It is a problem in both leagues as head injuries (namely, concussions) are things you don’t want to be messing around with. Players can’t be going around targeting and delivering vicious blows to the head. So anyone who does drill another player in the head should be punished.
The NHL agreed and came up with Rule 48. Section 48.1 reads as follows:
“A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.”
Okay, good. I think that nearly everyone can agree that’s a good rule to have. However, the NHL completely dropped the ball after Section 1. When the rule is used for a hit, the ONLY penalty that can be given is a 5 minute major and a game misconduct.
Hockey’s a fast game. When the refs think that the rule has been violated, they have to call a penalty. And so anything borderline will be called and result in the player getting tossed from the game. It also won’t help with the problem of officials employing “refereeing by result” when making calls. What happens when the receiver of the hit is being irresponsible and is crossing a danger zone with his head down?
Kris Letang of the Penguins was the first victim of this rule.
It’s a perfectly clean hit. It’s textbook. But his team ended up shorthanded for 5 minutes and he had to end his game early because the refs saw Comeau go down in a heap, they must have figured it was an illegal hit. They were wrong.
Dustin Brown was also tossed for a hit, but the legality of his hit was more debatable.
The NHL decided not to give Brown any further punishment. So it couldn’t have been that bad.
The problem with this rule is that the NHL is forcing refs to make a decision that takes the league’s disciplinary office a few days in a few seconds. The call is going to be messed up more often than not. It’s not fair to the players or the teams. If the rule continues to exist as it does now, it will force some players to lose their physical edge and style. To some players, that’s their game and how everything else builds from. It’ll make some players get complacent and get comfortable skating with their heads down. And they will get destroyed by the players whose physical style isn’t changed by the rule.
My solution? There needs to be an immediate deterrent. That’s why the refs should have the option to give a minor or double minor for an infraction. That way, if they do make a mistake, it won’t have the potential to dramatically influence the outcome of the game. And for the hits that are vicious, the hit should just be ruled on under the intent to injure rules and the league needs to adopt a consistent policy in punishing dirty hits, which they haven’t done yet.
Right now, the refs have to make split second decisions and their mistakes can’t be fixed. The NHL should take a minute and allow themselves to make the right call after the game.