NHL General Managers Continue Seeking Solution for Player Safety

The second day of the General Manager's Meeting in Boca Raton took another look at working to resolve some of the player safety issues facing the league. 

The bottom line? After the impact of the yesterday's Concussion Study, seeing concussion-causing hit after hit, the questions surfaces if the rules themselves need to be adapted to protect players on the ice, or if the issues should be dismissed as simply the nature of the game?

Members of the new committee spoke for a bit today concerning these questions. As announced yesterday, the committee includes Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, and Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, and is designed to function as mediator between the general managers and competition committee. 

The answer falls both ways. There are cases in which rules may need to be created in order to provide better protection. Steve Yzerman cited Rule 48, which despite being new, seems to be have had a positive impact, driven by the lowered percentage of man games lost due to illegal hits. The NHL Concussion Study data released yesterday found that only 17% of all man games lost due to concussions are from illegal hits, down from 41% last year.

Referring to Rule 48, Yzerman said, "I think it's shown to have some effect, have an impact on the players that are going to deliver a hit to be more careful and in some cases to avoid that hit. I think it's fine and we're still in the infancy stages of it."

Commissioner Gary Bettman said that in addition to Rule 48, the league is looking into creating an additional rule that will protect against head hits, aimed to focus on dangerous hits and other cases of player vulnerability. 

But other than that, the emphasis lies not in adjusting the wording, but in holding the boarding and charging calls to a new standard. The committee emphasized today that the first step lies in increasing awareness of the rules across the board.

Brendan Shanahan said that the boarding and charging rules themselves were adequate, but that the issue stems from the general understanding of the rules. "I think that working with the players association, the players, the coaches, the managers--I think it's just about everybody getting on the same page."

Yzerman admitted, too, that before reviewing the boarding and charging rules, line for line, he himself had not understood the full extent of the boarding call. "Prior to today's meeting, I had maybe read the rule or heard the rule before, but not specifically understood it."

But if the rules remain largely unchanged on paper, the reevaluation of the rules is driven by the game's evolution for change.

"Players have evolved over the years," Rob Blake said this morning, "and they've become faster and they've become stronger, so different techniques on the way to hit proper will come into the game." 

The difference, this time, is the adjustment of rules with the addition of a committee equipped with a more recent association with the game. 

"It's obviously a different game that it was before," Blake said. "We've all played in that circumstance and we understand the situations that we're put in. When you talk in that circumstance, you need people that have been exposed to the new style and the way the game has been played. I think we can add that aspect."

With the positive effort coming out of the General Manager's meetings this week, it's unfortunate that that matter is often less of an issue of on-ice play than the enforcement of rules by on-ice officials that determines the rules.

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