Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Do you understand the NHL's head shot rule?

NHL Senior VP and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell speaks to reporters during the NHL General Managers' annual fall meeting in Toronto, Ont. Tuesday, November 9, 2010.

Darren Calabrese

Colin Campbell takes most of the slings and arrows when it comes to suspensions (and non-suspensions) in the NHL.

But when it comes to hits to the head, he's really the wrong target.

Campbell, after all, didn't write the league's new blindside head shot rule and can't be blamed if, as the league's general managers intended, it eliminates very few hits to the head.

Story continues below advertisement

Rule 48 is available for viewing with the rest of the NHL rulebook on the league's website, but what's not highlighted and underlined is just how infrequently it comes into play. Only five players were suspended for a blindside hit this season. Two others were fined.

And the in-game penalty, which can only be a major and a game misconduct, was very rarely ever called.

In that context, looking back on the Raffi Torres incident of a couple days ago, it shouldn't come as a surprise that he wasn't penalized for a blindside hit.

Few players are.

Campbell was on the Fan 590 last night attempting to explain how the rule works, and the first question he was asked was, does he feel that Torres hit should be against the rules, even though it currently isn't?

"Do you want my honest answer?" Campbell asked. "I don't know anymore."

Which seems like a problem.

Story continues below advertisement

Campbell went on to say that "Rule 48 has really gone sideways out there. Everybody thinks we disallow shoulder hits to the head. We don't. Rule 48 almost prescribed where they're not allowed on the ice in certain situations. We pointed out where it's still acceptable to have contact, your shoulder with a player's head, and this is one area."

And there are lots and lots of other areas, too, which is why all of those vilifying Torres a few days ago were off the mark. Those in charge of the game, who set the rules, want the hit that knocked Brent Seabrook out of Game 4 (and perhaps the series) in the game.

The fans, meanwhile, seem split on all this, with some wanting to keep that contact and others calling for every hit to the head to be banned.

The NHL has tried to appease both groups, but they're really just waffling with this fuzzy, rarely used rule, which is why confusion reigns - even for Colin Campbell.

It's no wonder many fans, media and players aren't sure what to make of calls, on the ice and in Campbell's office.

Campbell said yesterday he believes the time is coming when hits like Torres's on Seabrook will be illegal, which would presumably mean a more clearly defined rule.

Story continues below advertisement

Until then, we'll still need explanations like this to make sense of what the NHL and its messenger are trying to tell us about hits to the head.

Even if it may actually be a whole lot simpler than we make it out to be.

"We're trying to make the game safer," Campbell said, addressing yesterday's two suspensions. "And what was accepted as a penalty before ... now should it be a suspension? It's been a long time since I was on the ice playing. You've got to give these guys a little bit of room if they haven't done something before. These things happen fast on the ice.

"We sell violence. You go in any arena, you don't just get goals on the big screen, you get goals, hits, fights and saves. Right now, hit 'em. Hit 'em hard, hit 'em often, wear 'em down."

Report an error
About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.