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Saturday, November 6, 2010
Weekend wrap: More Joe Thornton fallout; Zach Parise gears up for talks

By Pierre LeBrun

As I reported earlier Saturday, superstar San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton had his hearing with Gary Bettman at 11 a.m. ET and the NHL commissioner denied the forward's appeal, keeping the suspension at two games.

The hearing, conducted by phone, had an impressive casting call. I'm told NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHL executive vice president and league disciplinarian Colin Campbell, Thornton's brother and agent John Thornton, Sharks GM Doug Wilson, Sharks coach Todd McLellan and Matt Nussbaum from the NHL Players' Association were also on the call.

Joe Thornton
The NHL suspended Joe Thornton for two games for his hit on Blues center David Perron.

The suspension appeal was denied because, in the end, the league still believed Thornton's hit was "delivered laterally or from the blind side, where the principal point of contact is to the head," a league source said. The Sharks strongly believe Thornton did not target the head of Blues center David Perron.

The Sharks' other contention: Before the start of the season, the league sent out a video that explained Rule 48 (new rule for illegal hits to the head) with examples of dos and don'ts. In that video, Willie Mitchell's hit on Jonathan Toews from last season is deemed legal even with the new rule. The Sharks believe that hit is identical to Thornton's hit on Perron -- in both cases, Thornton and Mitchell left the penalty box and made contact with an unsuspecting player. Because the league said in the video that the Mitchell hit was legal even with the new rule, the Sharks are scratching their heads.

The league said the difference is that Mitchell's hit was considered shoulder on shoulder while Thornton's was shoulder to head. Although he finished Thursday's game and scored a goal, Perron didn't feel well Saturday morning at the skate and did not play that night. Blues president John Davidson told ESPN.com that Perron is "day to day with headaches."

Davidson also took exception to anyone thinking Thornton's hit didn't warrant the two-game suspension.

"Joe Thornton is a terrific player, but he crossed the line," Davidson told ESPN.com. "Is he not supposed to be subject to what the penalties are in this league if he crossed the line? Joe Thornton is not a dirty player, but he crossed the line. We have a player that can't play tonight because he got a shoulder to the head that was blindsided."

Regardless of how one feels about the Thornton hit on Perron, one can't dispute the confusion surrounding the new rule and supplemental discipline for hits to the head. That's why the head hits discussion Tuesday at the GMs meeting is a timely one. But it won't end there. I'm told the NHLPA has urged the league to further educate and clarify Rule 48 via its members of the Competition Committee.

And let's remember one thing: The goal of this new rule is to help curb the litany of concussions that have plagued the NHL in recent seasons. So although there's confusion right now regarding the rule's interpretation and implementation, let's not forget why the rule is in place. It's not time to take a step backward on it.

On a side note related to Saturday's appeal hearing ... when the next round of collective-bargaining agreement talks are held, I'd be shocked if the NHLPA didn't push hard for a change in the appeals process, which would see an independent arbitrator, not the NHL commissioner, preside over such things. Just a hunch.

Parise gears up for contract talks

Devils star Zach Parise has finally hired representation -- Don Meehan and Wade Arnott of Newport Sports. Why is this significant? Parise is set to become a restricted free agent July 1, one year away from unrestricted-free-agent status. It will be fascinating to see how Parise and Newport play this out. Does Parise look at this Devils mess and say he wants out, or does he take a nice, long-term contract and stay on with the only NHL team he has ever played for? No talks are scheduled between the sides at this point, but you can bet GM Lou Lamoriello will reach out during the season.

A Twitter policy?

One agenda item that jumped out at me for Tuesday's NHL GMs meeting is titled "Social Media Policy." The item was tabled on the agenda by Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney.

"With the continuing evolution and growth of 'social media' platforms, I felt a discussion regarding club guidelines and policies was appropriate at this time," Maloney told ESPN.com via e-mail Saturday.

The Coyotes have a player on their team, Paul Bissonette, who is quite the Twitter star (@BizNasty2point0). The GMs will use this discussion to get their heads around players who are on Twitter and Facebook. Should there be guidelines? Should the league have a policy? Keep an eye on this one because this is interesting in today's new media world.

More on the GMs meeting

As I brought up a few weeks ago, Red Wings GM Ken Holland has tabled an overtime/shootout discussion for the GMs meeting.

Holland's idea calls for a new overtime period of eight minutes (half played at 4-on-4 and the other half at 3-on-3) to help diminish the number of shootouts, which were held in record numbers last season. The thing is, the trend so far this season is seeing fewer shootouts held. That might loom large Tuesday in whether Holland has enough supporters to carry this idea to the next GMs meetings in March, when voting on new rules take place.

Another item on the agenda is "Warm-ups/Instigating and Trash Talking." This one was tabled by Campbell, who is tired of players acting up in pregame warm-ups. And we're talking about offenders such as Daniel Carcillo, Sean Avery and Zenon Konopka. One idea being thrown around is perhaps fining coaches of players who act up in warm-ups.