As the headshot debate rages on, NHL general managers chose not to recommend a ban on all headshots during the second day of their annual winter meetings.
Instead, GMs proposed stricter enforcement of boarding and charging penalties. They also stressed the need for longer suspensions on head hits, especially for repeat offenders.
Several other hockey leagues, including the International Ice Hockey Federation, enforce a blanket rule on head shots. The general managers believed a ban on all head shots would be too radical.
"The consensus is that the rules in the rule book are sufficient, and we've got to get to a tighter standard on calling charging and boarding," Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke told the Associated Press. "Without changing the fabric of the game, I think we can take out some of the more dangerous hits."
Commissioner Gary Bettman believed minor tweaks could fix the concussion problems.
"By the time the season is over there will be 55,000 hits, and a small percentage are resulting in concussions," Bettman said to the AP. "We want to eliminate concussions, but the view is if we can define a rule that makes sense and doesn't cause other problems in the game, we're going to try and do that."
Some players, like New Jersey Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur, wouldn't mind seeing an adaptation of the IIHF's rules.
"I think in (the 2006 Olympics) we saw it a lot," Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "Guys were taking high stick penalties and it was two minutes and a 10 (minute misconduct). So any kind of action to the head...to be able to take that player out of the game for 10 minutes you have to think twice about lifting a stick. That was a rule that I though was kind of interesting because I remember we played a game, it was a pretty tight game, and we lost Vinny Lecavlier for 10 minutes just because he had an unintentional high stick. So, any hits to the head should be a major penalty without maybe getting thrown out because sometimes accidents happen and it's a fast game."
There NHL, like most sports leagues, are taking a proactive approach to the rise in concussions. Several high profile players - including Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers - missed games after sustaining concussions.
One of the problems with concussion enforcement comes from the physical nature of the game. Nearly half of the players who sustained concussions on legal hits this season.
Vice president of hockey and business development Brendan Shanahan, a former player, was encouraged by the GMs willingness to explore longer suspensions.
"It speaks volumes to the players and our fans that they're serious about safety in the game," Shanahan told the AP.
Lemieux Wants Teams Fined For Suspensions
Penguins general manager Mario Lemieux suggested a tiered system of fines for teams who have players suspended through the course of the season.
Lemieux sent a letter to Bettman on March 7 outlining his plan for handing out the fines. He believed that fining teams would curb dangerous plays throughout the sport.
"While there have been 50-plus suspensions since the start of the 2009-10 season, the suspensions themselves don't seem to be deterring these illegal acts and tactics," Lemieux wrote in the letter. "And we've often seen repeat offenders. We think it is time that teams also are held accountable for the actions of their players. We propose instituting a policy of automatically fining a team when one of its players is suspended -- with the amount of the fine based on the length of the suspension. This should serve as a disincentive for teams as well as players to."
There hasn't been an exact amount released to the media, but the fines proposed by Lemieux were as follows:
1-2 games: $50,000 dollars
3-4 games: $100,000 dollars
5-8 games: $250,000 dollars
9-10 games: $500,000 dollars
11-15 games: $750,000 dollars
More than 15 games: $1 million fine to a team
Lemieux also proposed fining teams double the amounts for repeat offenders. The Penguins GM, who has the notorious Matt Cooke on his roster, acknowledged the fines his team would pay this season under the new system.
"Please not that if this proposed system were in operation today, the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been fined $600,00 this season because of recent suspensions to two players," Lemieux said. "We all have to take responsibility if we are going to improve the game."