As Sidney Crosby issued a carefully-worded denial that he would boycott the NHL all-star game because the culprits behind his concussion escaped serious punishment, calls on the league to strengthen its new rule on head shots came from both player and management sides.
J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, who represents the Sedin twins, Daniel Alfredsson and others, firmly believes that the NHL needs to go one step further and ban all blows to the head.
"I am supportive of a football-type rule," said Barry, who noted that it shouldn't be up to hockey operations to decide if a hit was intentional or not because "it's impossible to get it right. The football rule eliminates any uncertainty. It sends a message to the players - that you just can't hit anybody in the head anymore."
Other prominent agents, such as Don Meehan, Don Baizley and Kurt Overhardt, also said it is time to push for a change. Meehan and Overhardt said any lobbying by the agents is best done through the NHL Players' Association and its new executive director, Don Fehr.
"Protecting players' ability to play is as important as any [bargaining]issue," Overhardt said.
There is a sense of unhappiness around the players' union with the way the NHL hands out supplementary discipline such as suspensions for head shots. Those close to the union feel this could become part of the negotiations for a new collective agreement next year.
The number of concussions suffered by NHL players this season, ranging from mild to serious, is now 33. Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Dave King, whose team just lost defenceman David Schlemko when he was struck on the head by Scott Nichol of the San Jose Sharks, said the affect on hockey "is paralyzing."
Schlemko is the third Coyote to be sidelined with a concussion, joining Ed Jovanovski and Kurt Sauer, who also missed 80 games last season with a head injury. Nichol was suspended by the NHL for four games for the Schlemko hit.
"Every time a guy gets hit now you're holding your breath," King said. "It's affecting our sport. It's paralyzing."
King concurred that the absence of Crosby attracted greater attention to the head shot/concussion issue and believes the NHL is "trying to do the right thing.
"What I like now is that everything goes to replay. Almost every hit is looked at by the league. You can't escape the camera. Will it change the culture? Probably in time it will. It's ridiculous now how many players are on the shelf."
Crosby, who has not played since absorbing head hits from David Steckel of the Washington Capitals on Jan. 1 and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 5, said Tuesday he is feeling better but there is only a "slight chance" he will be healthy enough to play in the all-star game Jan. 30.
While Crosby dismissed a Globe and Mail report on Tuesday, which suggested his anger about the lack of suspensions for Steckel and Hedman was enough to have considered skipping the all-star game even if he were healthy, his presence at the game remains up in the air. Two years ago, Crosby attended the all-star game in Montreal to make public appearances, even though he could not play because of a knee injury.
The NHL and NHLPA did not pick Crosby as one of the captains for this year's game because of concerns he would not be healthy enough to play. Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's vice-president of hockey and business development, said Crosby told him "he wanted to do as much as he can" for the showcase event but they did not discuss his attendance.
"We didn't get into that," Shanahan said.
Crosby said, "I'll be there if I can be there and I still haven't ruled out being there."
A major part of the debate is the intention of players who deliver a hit to the head. One of the reasons Steckel and Hedman were not suspended is that their hits were deemed accidental but Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, and others say players should be accountable no matter what.
"A head shot may not be premeditated but a player should suffer the consequences," Meehan said.
There is also a lingering controversy about the initial medical treatment Crosby received. While Brisson said he now believes the first hit, by Steckel, led to the concussion, the diagnosis was not made until Jan. 6, the day after he was hit by Hedman.
The Penguins insist Crosby did not show any symptoms aside from a sore neck in the days after the first hit. Brisson said neither he nor Crosby have any complaints about how the team handled his injury.
With reports from Eric Duhatschek, Allan Maki, Matthew Sekeres and The Associated PressReport Typo/Error