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Monday, March 8, 2010
GMs looking to dissolve blows to the head


The NHL's 30 GMs meet Monday through Wednesday in sunny Boca Raton, Fla., where the issue of hits to the head will be, as long ago advertised, the headliner.

"It's like football: We have an issue with concussions, and the majority of concussions come from normal playing rules," Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior vice president and director of hockey operations, told ESPN.com over the weekend. "The game has changed, the game is faster, the players are bigger and faster. Our game is pretty clean, it's cleaned up a lot over the decades, but the trouble is shoulders are now hitting heads with legal hits and causing concussions. So we have to look at that. We are going to examine all types of hits in detail. We have a wealth of hockey intelligence with our cross section of GMs, and our challenge is to take a hard look at this and see if it can be solved."

The GMs last met as a group in November in Toronto, and agreed they needed to further study and tackle this issue. The GMs, as per usual at this March meeting, will be split into breakout groups, with one of those charged specifically with the hits-to-the-head issue. That group will be composed of Jim Rutherford (Carolina), Brian Burke (Toronto), Doug Wilson (San Jose), Ken Holland (Detroit), Paul Holmgren (Flyers), Joe Nieuwendyk (Stars), Lou Lamoriello (Devils) and Darcy Regier (Sabres).

That breakout group will report back to the larger group to present its recommendations before all 30 GMs vote on possible legislation (keep in mind that whatever comes out of this still needs the players' approval via the competition committee and then the final approval from the board of governors in June).

After all the rhetoric on the subject over the past few years, the sense is that something tangible will finally happen from these meetings.

"People have done their research, and I think there needs to be closure on what it is that we as a league are going to establish as accepted actions and practice," Wilson, the Sharks' GM, told ESPN.com this weekend. "We need language that clarifies what is acceptable and what isn't. I look forward to that happening and getting a level of closure on an issue where tough calls will always be made."

Although Wilson would not discuss it any further, wanting to keep his thoughts for the breakout group, my sense is that the group will want to try to come up with language to eliminate the "predatory'' type hit, such as the one Mike Richards leveled on David Booth in October. It's a touchy subject, and it'll be interesting to see just what the group comes up with.

Other items of note for this week's meetings:

• There's a small group of GMs who plan to bring up their belief that the standard of officiating has gradually slipped from where the game was coming out of the lockout -- that obstruction has crept its way back into the game. This could be a heated discussion. I'm not sure the league agrees with these GMs at all. Stay tuned.

• Burke again will address his "retaining salary in trades" concept. He's brought up this idea several times over the past few years only to butt heads with the league. The idea, which I for one support, is that retaining some salary in trades would lead to more trades, which is good for teams, players and fans. Burke won't give up on it, and given the lack of high-end trades (and interest from fans) this past week, he might have more leverage than ever with his argument. The league, in an e-mail to ESPN.com this week, once again countered that it would be a matter worth revisiting but only in the next collective bargaining agreement.

• NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly will discuss his proposed player transfer agreement with the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation and seek the GMs' approval on it. The NHL hasn't had a general player transfer agreement with all the European federation for close to three years. But last summer, the league began to take the piecemeal approach and signed an agreement with the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation. Now it appears Sweden is next in line if the GMs think the deal is fair. The NHL paid out more than $110 million in development fees to European federations from 1995 to 2007 before the transfer agreement was nixed.