Suspensions reaction ranges from 'supportive' to 'pink hats'
Heading into the new season, nine players have received 31 regular-season games worth of suspensions for incidents in preseason games. Together, they will forfeit more than $701,000 in salary.
It is as a result of the broadening of Rule 48 on head blows. Previously, calls were made only for blindside or lateral hits to the head. This season, they cover all hits in which "the head is the principal point of contact."
"Change is always hard, but what we want is for the number of head injuries to come down," said Brendan Shanahan, who was named to a new position as senior vice president of player safety by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Shanahan took over for Colin Campbell as the league's disciplinarian. The league's general managers recommended the change amid a clamorous debate over head shots -- like the shoulder to the jaw Washington's Dave Steckel unleashed that ended Sidney Crosby's season during the Winter Classic outdoor game in January. Crosby looks to be recovering but won't be ready for the Penguins' regular-season opener.
Other players, including Boston center Marc Savard, have suffered more serious concussions from head shots.
"I think he's sending a clear message that hits to the head and illegal blows aren't going to be tolerated," Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges said. "If guys haven't realized that by now, it's their own fault. It's something we as players have to recognize. It's a good move and hopefully it will save some guys from serious injuries."
Crosby also joined in the call to ban head shots, even if only 50 of 50,000 hits in hockey last season were to the head.
"Whether it's accidental or not accidental, you've got to be responsible out there," Crosby said. "At the end of the day, you can do a lot more good than what it's going to take away from the game."
Shanahan said he is just doing what the league's governors and general managers wanted by handing out stiffer suspensions. He said the videos were Bettman's idea.
"Players and fans and GMs still won't necessarily agree with the decisions, but it explains them in better detail," Shanahan said.
Some in hockey circles have been critical of the new string of disciplinary action. During a media conference call Monday, NBC NHL analyst Mike Milbury said he doesn’t like the league’s new direction.
"I think if this goes the way it's going right now, it'll do more than if they took fighting out of the game. … People don't want to lose tens of thousands of dollars, going out for 10 and 20 games for what have been, sometimes, really vicious hits and sometimes questionable calls, in my opinion,” Milbury said. I think right now the way it's called sucks.
“I wonder, would the Bruins have won the Stanley Cup had the standard had changed to what Brendan Shanahan has made it today? I wonder if that would be the case. I think we might have had a different champion, and I wouldn't have liked that. I loved the way they played. I love the way they hit everything that moved. I'm not talking about head shots. I don't like head shots. I don't like concussions either. But right now, there's a lot of pink hats out there, and I don't wear a pink hat. Just ties.”
The NHL regular season opens Thursday night.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.