In the face of mounting public criticism, a group of general managers is pushing the NHL to adopt its proposed new rule on hits to the head before the end of the current season.
The group wants NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to bring the proposed rule, which calls for a minor or major penalty plus an automatic review by the league for any hit in which the head is the target, to the competition committee for a quick review. If the committee grants the necessary approval, the GMs want the governors to give the final approval in a fax vote in order for the rule to be put into force immediately, sources told The Globe and Mail.
Such a move is almost unheard of in the NHL. All rule proposals that come from the GMs' annual March meetings are normally reviewed by the competition committee in the summer and then presented to the board of governors for approval for the next season. This procedure, the league maintains, allows both the players and the on-ice officials to be educated about any new rule by the time the regular season starts in early October.
But the issue of hits to the head and the resulting concussions has been a hot one for the NHL.
There was a massive outcry last week when Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke was not suspended for a shoulder hit to the head of Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard.
The hit happened a day before the NHL GMs meetings, in which headshots was the major item on the agenda. Mr. Savard was left with a Grade 2 concussion and may not play again this season.
Bill Daly, the deputy commissioner of the NHL, could not be reached for comment. However, a spokesman for the NHL Players' Association, which has five players on the 10-member competition committee, said it would not necessarily stand in the way of a quick approval, although its members have not yet received the official proposal from the NHL.
"I don't think anyone is looking to delay it," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said Monday night. "But we have not received the relevant information."
One league source said the union will get the information on the rule by Wednesday.
Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, who was a member of the eight-member committee of general managers who developed the proposal, said he has not heard of any effort to put the rule into effect this season. He noted that at last week's GMs meetings, that issue was raised, but it was decided to go through the usual process because of the importance of properly educating the referees and players about the new rule.
"I would be open to hearing why anyone thinks we should do this now," Mr. Rutherford said.
Mr. Weatherdon said the players on the competition committee may have questions about the rule and may want to consult their peers before making any decisions. Since there are only about four weeks left in the regular season, there may not be enough time to introduce the rule change, although it could be done in time for the playoffs.
But one general manager who requested anonymity did not think it was a good idea to make the change before next season.
"It would not be fair to change it now," he said. "The officials have to have time to figure out how to call it."
The GM said the league does have the duty to protect players from head hunters. He said hits like the recent ones that caused a large outcry around the NHL and from the public can be dealt with in the short-term with existing rules and supplemental discipline.
"The [NHL]hockey operations department can issue suspensions and the referees can call intent-to-injure [major]penalties," the GM said.
On Monday, NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell suspended Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin for two games for a hit from behind on Brian Campbell of the Chicago Blackhawks. Hits from behind are against NHL rules and Mr. Campbell noted in announcing the suspension that Mr. Ovechkin is a repeat offender, as he was suspended earlier this season.
The Blackhawks player suffered a broken clavicle and injuries to his ribs from the hit and might miss the rest of the season. Coincidentally, he is also a member of the competition committee, which is made up of five players, four GMs and one owner.
The NHL has yet to name replacements on the competition committee for Bob Gainey and Kevin Lowe. Mr. Gainey stepped down as GM of the Montreal Canadiens and Mr. Lowe handed over the Edmonton Oilers GM title to Steve Tambellini more than a year ago.