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Saturday, March 12, 2011
Weekend wrap: Hits to head, concussions, equipment part of GMs meetings

By Pierre LeBrun

Concussions and head shots will dominate the discussion at the GMs meetings this week in Boca Raton, Fla. Here's what to expect:

• Monday's league presentation to GMs will essentially have the message that Rule 48 (making blindside hits to the head illegal) was a good rule change, but it hasn't put much of a dent in the overall concussion numbers. So, the league will ask GMs, "Where do we go from here?"

• One idea that will be brought up: Should all blindside hits be banned, regardless of whether they're hits to the head or not? Any blindside hit to any part of the body, period? How do you define exactly what's a blindside check? That's the tricky part.

• Another proposal which will be on the table: a two-minute penalty for any check to the head regardless of whether they are blindside hits or not. This will be a contentious debate to be sure.

• As one industry source told ESPN.com this week, some concussions are caused by totally clean, shoulder-to-shoulder contact. Because of the speed of the game and size of players, the collisions and their impact are causing the players' brains to rattle like never before. So, do you slow the game down? If so, how?

• Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke will introduce his "bear hug" idea again -- a player being allowed to put arms around the opposing player near boards as a protective measure. Burke told ESPN.com on Saturday that he thinks it helps minimize the drilling of players three feet from the boards.

• Equipment/shoulder pads will be on the agenda again. Even though shoulder pads have a half-inch of new soft padding this season, most believe it's still not enough and there is a need to make equipment safer.

• The NHL set a record number of hits last season, and it is on pace to eclipse that record again this season (averaging 46 hits per game). There is 40-percent more hitting now than in 2004 (pre-lockout), a league source told ESPN.com. That's astonishing. And you wonder why concussions are on the rise.

• GMs will be informed of an important concussion protocol change for next season that has been drafted and agreed to by the Concussion Working Group (members from NHL Players' Association and NHL). If a player appears woozy, he will be forced to go to his dressing room to get checked out and undergo a concussion test. He will no longer be allowed to just get checked out on the bench.

• Rink safety will be on the agenda, which is obviously timely after Max Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra in his neck after Zdeno Chara hit him into a stanchion. (Drew Doughty also got checked into the stanchion Friday night.)

GMs will talk about how to make rinks safer. A source told ESPN.com that the NHL has spoken to six clubs (Montreal, Calgary, Colorado, Phoenix, Nashville and Minnesota) that have seamless glass throughout their rinks and all six have agreed to replace seamless and go with Plexiglas on the ends for next season. Plexiglas better absorbs hits and is deemed safer for players.

Update: Coyotes sale

Two sources involved in the sale process told ESPN.com on Saturday there was tentative progress this past week.

"Cautious optimism," said one source.

Potential buyers have been identified for the municipal bonds, although it's not a sure thing they'll buy them. There is still a lot of work to be done and the clock is very much ticking. Stay tuned.

Derek Roy

It was assumed Buffalo forward Derek Roy was lost for the season, but we were told Saturday that if the team pulls off a first-round upset, there's a possibility Roy could return in the second or third round.

Leafs shakeup?

The Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment majority owners released this statement Saturday night:



"The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan today stated that it will explore the possibility of selling its 66-percent majority share of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and will be making no further public comment on the matter."

MLSE CEO Richard Peddie declined comment when contacted by ESPN.com.