BOSTON –- Granted approval from the NHL Players' Association executive committee to implement a rule against blindside hits to the head Thursday morning, the league made sure teams got a look at the DVD with examples of hits that would now be illegal before taking the ice.
And in at least one player’s case, the new rule had the desired effect.
Late in the third period, Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart had a chance to level Tampa Bay forward Mark Parrish, who was approaching the red line. Instead, Stuart pulled up and made leg-on-leg contact, which earned the blueliner a tripping penalty. After the Bruins’ 5-3 loss at TD Garden, Stuart admitted he went to great lengths to avoid contact with Parrish’s head.
“I saw him coming across,” said Stuart, who is one of Boston’s hardest hitters. “It was in the back of my head, for sure. I tried to get out of the way.”
The league's DVD showed about 30 examples of the type of hits the NHL is targeting. Officially, the new rule prohibits “a lateral, back-pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.” While there’s no on-ice penalty for such hits, the league has the right to review any play and impose supplemental discipline.
The rule is of particular note in Boston given Marc Savard's Grade 2 concussion from a hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke, who was neither penalized nor suspended.
For the most part, the players are in favor of the rule.
“I think if you ask anyone they would be,” said Lightning star Steven Stamkos, who scored twice in the win. “Dangerous plays are costing some guys their seasons and possibly their careers. We want that stuff out of the game. Obviously it is a physical game. Plays are made at full speed, but at the same time guys have to be accountable for their actions. We don’t want to take hitting out of the game, we just want to avoid those blatant head shots, especially in the open ice.”
“We were shown the video this morning about head shots, but I didn’t really think too much of it [during the game],” said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “When I was mostly on the boards, I tried to get shoulder on shoulder. But I didn’t really think about it.”
“No situation for me presented itself for back pressure, east-west, or whatever. That didn’t happen when I was out there,” said winger Shawn Thornton.
Thornton, however, was involved in one potentially dangerous play in the second period. He chased a puck to the end wall with defenseman Kurtis Foster, who turned at the last second and wound up hitting his head into the glass. Thornton skated away and didn’t even know what happened. Foster was able to skate off on his own and Thornton said he was assured right away that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Chris Lee, the ref, said he was right there and it was just a battle and he went in funny,” said Thornton. “It was that more that than anything.”
As guys try to avoid head shots, we might see more plays like Stuart’s going forward. That could lead to some questionable leg blows and awkward contact down the stretch.