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Players make counter-proposal on NHL's head shot rule

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook falls to the ice after he was checked by Anaheim Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, March 17.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

It appears the NHL will get part of its proposed new rule against headshots brought in before the end of the season, although just when that will happen is up in the air.

But Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators, who is one of the five players on the NHL's competition committee, said yesterday the players want more discussions this summer before they agree to a permanent new rule.

"We're looking for a band-aid to fix for the rest of the year in case something happens, but for the long term I think we have to sit down together and find a better solution than just tweaking a little rule, it has to be something that's talked about, it just seems everything's been sprung on [us]" Spezza said. "It's just hard to find the proper language and the right rule."

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Officially, the NHL is still waiting for a reply from the five players on the competition committee through the NHL Players' Association. The league had hoped to put part of its new rule proposal into effect this week because it told the board of governors to be prepared to submit its votes via fax by today.

Once the competition committee, which is made up of five players, four general managers and one owner, signs off on a rule proposal it has to be approved by the NHL's 30 governors. In a rare case such as this one, where the change is made during the current season, a unanimous vote of approval is required from the governors.

Actually, the NHL is not trying to fast-track the complete new rule, just the supplementary discipline portion of it. The proposal calls for a minor or major penalty to be assessed for any blindside hit to the head with an automatic review by the league's hockey operations department.

Since a few matters like whether or not there will be an automatic game misconduct for a major penalty still need to be ironed out, the league did not want to immediately implement the on-ice portion of the rule. There was also the problem of educating referees and players on the new standards.

As a compromise, the league proposed bringing in the automatic review immediately for blindside headshots. Offenders for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs will be subject to suspensions from NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell.

However, that part of the rule cannot go into effect until the players tell the NHL they will go along with it. Some people around the NHL are concerned that the players will drag their feet because of lingering resentment that the GMs shot down a rule proposal from the players at their annual meetings in March, 2009.

Spezza indicated, though, that they will probably go along with the partial new rule for the rest of this season. An NHL source said the league would also be willing to proceed.

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Just when that will be is uncertain, although some think it could happen by the end of the week.

"Following the completion of their review of the league's proposal, the NHLPA's competition committee members will be responding to the NHL this week," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said.

Campbell indicated one of the biggest problems in bringing in the entire rule right away would be the number of players trying to exploit it for a competitive advantage.

"We didn't want to change with 10 games left in the season," he said. "We never applied a [new]rule before. We couldn't get the referees together to explain it and debate it.

"You know there will be embellishing of [headshots]to get a penalty. Guys will be grabbing their heads like you've never seen, just like guys try to squeeze the blood out of a high stick. That's why we left the on-ice penalty out of it. At least we can apply supplemental discipline to it if it clears all the hurdles."

The league has already circulated a DVD to the players and on-ice officials that demonstrates the standard for calling the penalty. But Spezza made it clear he and the four other players on the competition committee (Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, Jeff Halpern of the Los Angeles Kings, Brian Campbell of the Chicago Blackhawks and Mathieu Schneider of the Phoenix Coyotes) will be making a counter-proposal to the NHL this summer for the permanent new rule.

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"We've talked about some things, but we need to bounce it off the league," Spezza said. "Whatever we do this year is only going to be a band-aid. We've been trying for two years to get something in and the league has said there's already the rules in place that protect head shots and now they want to make a change.

"But we have to be careful though. There's what, 10 games left in the season? You don't want to make a change and put the refs in a bad position."

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