The NHL doesn't necessarily need to fast track a new head-shot rule in order to curb the number of concussions in the game, retired referee Bruce Hood says.
Just enforcing the rules as they are currently written - specifically rule 43.1, on charging - would accomplish much the same thing, he says.
According to Hood, only 45 charging minors and five charging majors were assessed during the first 1,038 games of the 2009-10 NHL season - not nearly enough considering how the game has evolved in terms of the speed and the impact of its collisions in recent years.
"I think the NHL is way out of line in allowing hits to the head to take place with no penalty being called," Hood said in an e-mail yesterday. "It makes the game look like roller derby."
Eleven days ago, the issue came to a head again, when Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke steamrolled Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard with a blindside hit that left Savard with a concussion and out of the lineup indefinitely. No penalty was called on the play and NHL executive vice-president Colin Campbell later determined he could not apply supplementary discipline on the grounds that there was no specific rule on the books banning the action.
However, Hood - who refereed in 1,033 NHL regular-season games, 157 Stanley Cup playoff games, three all-star games and three Canada Cup tournaments - believes the rule against charging should cover off the Cooke hit and others like it.
The rule, in part, reads: "Charging shall mean the action of a player who, as a result of a distance travelled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A 'charge' may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame, or in open ice."
Hood says he raised his concerns in an e-mail exchange with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who disputed his conclusion, saying the Cooke hit was legal under the NHL's current rules and did fall into the category of charging. The NHL's general managers are in the midst of trying to amend that rule now, so that blindside hits to the head will be illegal in the future.
But Hood suggests Cooke travelled "enough distance" on the play in question to be assessed a penalty on the play - and that in turn would have opened the door for a suspension.
Furthermore, he believes the problem could be remedied instantly if the point were reinforced to officials - that the charging rule, as it is currently written - could cover off most of the damaging hits that have cast the NHL in an unflattering light in the weeks since the Vancouver Winter Olympics ended.
"Whoever is responsible for the standard of interpretation and application of Rule 43 does not have the proper understanding of the intent of the rule from Day 1," Hood said. "It is to take care of such incidents that develop."