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The Globe and Mail

NHL general managers to discuss head shots

A trainer signals for a doctor while tending to Florida Panthers forward David Booth, who was blindsided by Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers in an Oct. 24 game.

Matt Slocum/AP

Head shots will dominate the agenda at the NHL general managers' meetings today and tomorrow in Toronto and it looks as if adopting an on-ice penalty directed at them is still a long shot.

"I have not changed my view on an automatic penalty, I have no appetite for that," Toronto Maple Leafs president and GM Brian Burke said. "But the criteria we apply when we evaluate these, we have to look at when a player has no chance to avoid the hit. The [Jonathan]Toews hit, that's part of our game. If Toews had looked up, he would have seen it coming. I'm not sure [David]Booth had any chance to avoid it and I just want to review the criteria."

Toews, a Chicago Blackhawks forward, suffered a concussion when he was caught with his head down by Vancouver Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell in a head-on hit. Booth was the victim of a blind-side hit when the Florida Panthers forward was hit by Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards, who came from the side and slightly behind Booth.

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"In the case where the player hasn't put himself in a vulnerable position and he can't avoid the hit, we're going to have to put some culpability on the hitter," Burke said. "We've always said, if the player puts himself in a vulnerable position, that's his fault. But where he has no chance, we have to put some responsibility on the hitter. We don't like mid-season changes, but maybe for next season, we can upgrade the criteria."

Also on the agenda will be a discussion about eliminating the trapezoid area behind the net where goaltenders are not allowed to handle the puck. Some GMs feel that has made defencemen, who have to go back to the boards and get the puck, more vulnerable to high-speed hits.

The GMs will also be lectured by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly about signing star players to long-term contracts designed to lessen the hit to a team under the salary cap. Recent contracts awarded to Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger had a couple of years tacked on the end at a relatively low salary. Since the figure applied to a team's salary cap every year is the average salary over the life of the contract, that lowered the cap hit for teams. But by the time those years arrive in the contract, there is a good chance the players will have retired.

Daly said the three contracts in question remain under investigation by the league.

Discussions from the Toronto meetings will be followed up at the GMs' major annual meetings next March and any recommendations for rule changes will be made then.

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