The NHL wants to adopt a new head-shots rule before season's end and is moving to get all stakeholders, from players to coaches to officials, onside.
"It's a process that has never been done before in the season," said Colin Campbell, senior vice-president of hockey operations. "But this is so important an issue that if we can possibly avoid just one concussion, we should do this."
In an effort to fast-track the implementation of the proposed rule, the league is preparing a video-highlights package that it plans to circulate to all 30 teams within the next week or so.
The DVD illustrates what would - and wouldn't - be allowed under a proposed rule change adopted by the league's general managers last week to curb the sort of blindside head hits that have left a number of players seriously concussed this season. The NHL's move comes a day after The Globe and Mail reported that a group of general managers are pushing the league to quickly adopt the rule.
In order to implement the change properly, the league needs to ensure that everybody involved in the process, from players and coaches to general managers and officials, knows exactly what's involved, according to Mr. Campbell.
The primary difficulty in introducing a new rule on the fly is getting all the necessary approvals in place in time for the end of the regular season, less than a month away.
The first step is to get the information out to the NHL Players' Association for its approval and endorsement. In theory, that should pose no problem, because it was the NHLPA, under former executive director Paul Kelly, that asked the league more than a year ago to address the growing issue of head shots on behalf of its membership.
From there, the rule change would need to be discussed and approved by the competition committee; at which point it would then be forwarded to the NHL's board of governors for approval. Normally, governors' approval - the final step - involves little more than rubber stamping a proposal, but because it is an in-season rule change, approval would need to be unanimous; and one maverick governor could scuttle the process.
"They're not easy hoops to jump through at a crucial time in our season," acknowledged Mr. Campbell, who said using video is an effective educational tool to illustrate a proposed rule change. Accompanying the video will also be a memo, further clarifying the proposed two-paragraph rule change introduced last week.
"What they're going to understand is six or eight examples, both ways, of what is and isn't acceptable," Mr. Campbell said. "If we can get this out right away, maybe the players will think, 'Boy, if I throw a check from this way, I've really got to make an effort to give him a body check, or go through the body. I can't hit him head first.'-"
Further complicating matters is that two of the five general managers originally appointed to the competition committee - Kevin Lowe of the Edmonton Oilers and Bob Gainey of the Montreal Canadiens - no longer hold those positions. The New Jersey Devils' Lou Lamoriello has been sitting in for Mr. Lowe for about a year. No replacement has been named for Mr. Gainey, who resigned as Canadiens' GM this year.
The five players who sit on the competition committee include Ryan Miller (Buffalo), Jeff Halpern (Los Angeles), Jason Spezza (Ottawa) and Mathieu Schneider (Phoenix). Brian Campbell, the Chicago Blackhawks' defenceman who on Sunday suffered a broken collarbone on a hit from behind delivered by the Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin, is also on the committee. Mr. Ovechkin was suspended for two games and Mr. Campbell will miss seven to eight weeks, according to a statement from the Blackhawks yesterday.
Mr. Ovechkin's suspension came little more than a week after the Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke knocked the Boston Bruins' Marc Savard out of action indefinitely with a severe concussion, delivering a blind-side hit that, up until now, has been legal under NHL rules.
"We've made the game better, but there's always a yin for every yang," Mr. Campbell said. "We've increased the speed out there, which everybody likes, but now we've also increased the car crashes, with bigger and stronger players.
"It's not an easy topic. But ... we determined there was something we didn't like about this - and so we said, 'Let's stop it. Let's tell players, as they come across, that you can't do it any more.' "