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Monday, June 13, 2011
Tweaked Rule 48 closer to passing

By Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

BOSTON -- A revamped head-shot rule came one step closer to fruition Monday after the NHL's competition committee approved the rule, pending a review of the language.

The committee -- a group of players, owners and general managers -- has agreed with the GMs' recommendations that would broaden the scope of Rule 48. The amended rule should be in place for next season, pending approval of the board of governors on June 21 in New York.

However, league executive Brendan Shanahan and NHLPA executive Mathieu Schneider must finalize the language before the governors meet.

"We're definitely headed down the right path in expanding Rule 48," Schneider said after Monday's six-hour meeting. "What it's coming down to is getting the wording down on paper properly and Brendan and I will continue to talk over the next few days and try to nail something down."

Neither Schneider nor Shanahan expected any kind of problem after everyone in the room Monday essentially agreed to the rule change.

"In the end we all want the same thing, we all want to make the game as safe as possible," said Shanahan. "We know it's a physical game, we know there's always going to be injuries and there will always be concussions, but we want to make the game as safe as we possibly can."

GMs had suggested the change at their June 8 meeting, essentially taking the term "blindside" out of the existing rule to allow for more penalties and potentially more suspensions to be handed out for a variety of hits that target unsuspecting players. According to the new Rule 48, any hit that targets the head and where the head is the principal point of contact will be illegal. Under terms of Rule 48 this season, only blindside hits to the head were illegal. "It's very similar to what we talked about at the GMs meeting in the sense of broadening the rule," league executive Rob Blake said Monday after the meeting. "The exact interpretation will go forward. But we had a good understanding that the union, the players and the NHL together want to go forward for the safety of the players."

Blake and Shanahan were part of a blue-ribbon panel along with Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk that drafted the original language for the rule change and presented it to the GMs last week.

"I just think that people have to realize the goal in all of this was to make the game safer," said Nieuwendyk. "We don't like some of the hits that we see and we don't like the results of those hits ... That was the goal in mind and I think there's a broader spectrum of hits that will fall into this category now. And I think the big thing is the education process to the players and how the referees will call this. So there's still some work to be done." The competition committee had four new faces Monday: Mike Cammalleri of the Montreal Canadiens and Chris Campoli of the Chicago Blackhawks joined Chris Clark, Ryan Miller and David Backes on the NHLPA side, replacing Schneider and Mike Commodore. Nieuwendyk and Yzerman were officially added to the committee on the league side, replacing former members Bob Gainey and Kevin Lowe. They joined Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, Flyers owner Ed Snider and Nashville GM David Poile on the committee.

From a players' perspective, Monday's discussion to broaden Rule 48 was a good one.

"I like the discussion today," said Cammalleri. "I like where we're going today. For me I like the idea that we're going, I think our game's plenty exciting and plenty physical and I think we can do that and still have a game that's safe and a game that parents want to watch with their children, a game they want their kids participating in so we're moving in that safer direction for sure." The new version of Rule 48 will ban more forms of hits to the head. "There were hits this year that we saw that we want eliminated from the game," said Schneider. "And we need to make sure that we don't end up back in this situation next year. Without getting real specific, players and managers want to keep the physical play in, want to put some onus on guys who are on the ice, but at the same time I think there are hits that we want to rid ourselves of and by expanding Rule 48 we're hoping we'll be able to do that."

"I think we're putting some parameters just to make things simpler, more I guess black and white so that it is a safer game for everybody to play and I still think we're covering the excitement that everyone wants to see," said Cammalleri.

Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside cover the NHL for ESPN.com.