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On Tuesday, the NHL’s Board of Governors approved a rule change banning senseless (and indeed any) head hits (likely in response to pressure from the Marc Savard incident), specifically prohibiting “a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.” The logistics and timing of the rule change are still being considered by the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL Hockey Operations Department, though the Board did vote for the new rule in unanimous fashion.
It’s about time. When Matt Cooke took down Marc Savard in that fateful game, we were surprised the referees were “conveniently” not looking at the play and consequently assessed no penalties on the play. We were even more surprised when the NHL green-lighted the play and any subsequent plays, when everyone’s least favorite hypocrite Colin Campbell said it was okay because nobody had been penalized for such a hit before. It was well apparent to everyone in the world that something had to be done.
After too much deliberation, the league has finally done the right thing. It is clear that head hits cause injury every time, and can only be done on purpose. Physicality is a part of hockey, something we all know. But there’s a fine line between physicality and assault and battery. Finally, there will be incentives to make sure everyone has the maximum likelihood to remain safe and will not have to worry about blatant attempts to end seasons and careers. Hopefully, the more extreme fines/suspensions being discussed will be part of the new rule. It’s too bad the U.S. Constitution bans ex post facto, so we can’t punish Matt Cooke for his hit. Maybe now he can finally concentrate on making his mother proud.