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Players split opinions on headshots Add to ...

There's apparently no better way to split an NHL dressing room these days than to ask players about a headshot rule.

And, given recent events, no team is as well-versed on the subject as the Boston Bruins.

Fighting tooth and nail for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins arrived in Toronto for their game against the Maple Leafs tonight without their superstar in Marc Savard, who left Boston's game last Sunday on a stretcher after taking a blow to the head.

For a team that has gone from scoring the second-most goals in the league last season to sitting dead last in the category, losing a player who has more assists (292) since the NHL lockout than all but three others could well be the fatal blow.

Most players around the league said Monday they want to see hits like the one Penguins winger Matt Cooke laid on Savard penalized - and even suspended. But beyond that, there's little consensus on what, if any, rule changes are needed to prevent similar checks.

Some say all hits to the head should be outlawed. Others scream sacrilege at the thought.

Another group altogether attempts to avoid saying much at all.

"I can't say it was a bad hit, I can't say it was a good hit - I've got no comments on that," Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask said here. "It didn't look good."

Leafs teammates John Mitchell and Dion Phaneuf, meanwhile, offered positions at odds with each other on a potential rule banning bodychecks that make contact with the head.

"They've been talking about it for a while and that [hit]very well may be the last straw," said Mitchell, who took a check to the noggin from Ottawa Senators pugilist Chris Neil last Saturday. "Even though those are essentially clean hits, maybe they do need a penalty called there for just a headshot I guess it would be called."

"Where do you draw the line on that?" asked Phaneuf, one of the league's most fearsome hitters. "If a guy's coming through the middle of the ice and he's got his head down and you hit him with your shoulder, that's a clean hit. ...

"I definitely think they cannot take that out of the game; you can't take hitting out of this game, it's a big part of it, and I don't see that happening."

Even Phaneuf, who plays every game as if he's hoping to make Don Cherry's annual Rock'em Sock'em highlights, wasn't a fan of Cooke's hit, however.

He said he expects NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell to serve Cooke a suspension.

"There's no room for that in the game," Phaneuf said. "But in saying that, the league also does a good job with patrolling that kind of stuff. It's not our job to discipline that - the league will take care of that. And I'm sure they will."

As ugly as the hit Sunday looked to players, fans and general managers alike, it didn't draw a penalty from veteran referees Marc Joannette and Tim Peel during the game.

While some have suggested Cooke used his elbow - and he could be suspended on that basis - replays indicate it was his upper arm which made contact with Savard's head.

With no rule yet on the books for hits to the head - blindside or otherwise - some players struggled yesterday when asked to point out what specifically was illegal about the hit.

"I thought there should have been a penalty," said Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk, sporting a nasty bruise on the left side of his face from a recently broken orbital bone. "I don't know why there wasn't. I'm not sure what you call on that, but it's just ..."

He trailed off.

"Now, you go back and forth [watching replays] but at the time of the hit, maybe they didn't really see that it was bad," Boychuk said. "I don't even know what you call it."

A few stalls down in an almost empty dressing room, Boychuk's soft-spoken Czech teammate, Vladimir Sobotka, didn't seem to know what all of the fuss was about. The 22-year-old centre, who is likely to take Savard's spot in the lineup, proposed a solution he was accustomed to from playing three seasons in the Extraliga back home.

"There should be an automatic penalty," Sobotka said. "I'm surprised that the refs didn't call it. It should be eliminated, you know, every hit to part of the head should be called."

And the debate rages on.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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