BOCA RATON, Fla. — Eager to keep their game fast and physical, NHL general managers decided yesterday against recommending major rule changes to curb concussions, opting to push for tighter enforcement of charging and boarding penalties instead.
The GMs also will stress the need for longer suspensions for illegal head hits, particularly for repeat offenders.
A rise in concussions this season, including two recent high-profile cases, put the issue at the top of the GMs’ agenda. But following a second day of meetings, commissioner Gary Bettman said the group decided a ban on all head shots would be too radical a response.
Instead, the GMs focused on existing rules that pertain to charging and boarding.
“By the time the season is over there will be 55,000 hits, and a small percentage are resulting in concussions,’’ Bettman said. “We want to eliminate concussions, but the view is if we can define a rule that makes sense and doesn’t cause other problems in the game, we’re going to try and do that.’’
Also rejected were changes that would slow the game to reduce the force of collisions.
“We don’t want to slow down the game,’’ Montreal’s Pierre Gauthier said. “It’s a good game.’’
The GMs may still propose stricter rules on head hits involving a vulnerable player or excessive force, Bettman said. A committee will study options and draft recommendations for the Board of Governors to consider at its June meeting, with possible implementation next season.
Blindside hits to the head are banned. Some hockey leagues prohibit all head shots, but the GMs decided against a blanket ban.
“The consensus is that the rules in the rule book are sufficient, and we’ve got to get to a tighter standard on calling charging and boarding,’’ Toronto’s Brian Burke said.
Nearly half of all concussions this season have been caused by legal hits, according to a league study. The GMs believe stiffer, more aggressive enforcement of charging and boarding violations will reduce that rate.
As in other sports, awareness about concussions is on the rise in the NHL. The league considers itself at the forefront in confronting the problem, but recent injuries intensified debate about the game’s rules and policies.
Penguins star Sidney Crosby has been sidelined sincey January because of a concussion, and the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty sustained a concussion and cracked vertebra last week when he was driven into a glass partition by Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara.