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Trying to Stay A-'Head' of the Game

Well folks, it looks like I'm moving up in the world. Apparently, Dom despises me so much, that he just had to have me on his team instead of listening to my mouth (a la our pal Sean Avery). You know the Rangers are the only people in the hockey world who would actually consider saying anything remotely positive about that character.

Sincerely though, I'd like to thank Dom for his support and his faith that I'll be able to bring a different point of view to the table. It was an absolute thrill to have someone pledge their trust in me to do the kind of work I know I can.

I also can't forget my buddy here on Long Island, Mike Schuerlein a.k.a. IslesBlogger, who was instrumental in my indoctrination into the Blog Box group and subsequently my employ here. Thanks, man.

I look forward to providing some exciting content that will give our readers a good idea of things going on behind the scenes in the League Office. Such as topic #1: The GM meeting last week in Pittsburgh, where the issue of hits to the head in the new NHL landscape came up in conversation once again...

If you're remotely connected to the hockey community and have been watching this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs unfold, you heard or witnessed the vicious and technically legal hit Niklas Kronwall delivered on Martin Havlat in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Here's the clip if you didn't:

Now the hit itself is not the issue. Kronwall was making a legal body check on an opposing player with the puck in the very near vicinity. What has to change and drastically I might add, is the fact that even as he was trying to time the hit, Kronwall kept his shoulders and arms upright while Havlat had his head down. In doing so, Kronwall put Havlat in danger for a vicious hit to the head. The follow-through of Kronwall's left arm is what ultimately does the damage, as well as the speed of the play and Havlat is left defenseless.

In response to recent undercurrents of displeasure related to this issue generated by The Hockey News and other media outlets within the hockey community, the NHL responded by bringing together the GM's of each team in Pittsburgh last week to discuss the possibility of a penalty specifically geared to give referees the option of stricter discipline and reduce the number of hits to the head. What came out of that meeting was far less than encouraging.

The "Old Boys Club" is still very much in control. Brian Burke, General Manager of the Leafs made these comments that appeared in the Toronto Star:

"I'm not running for office here – I don't care if people agree with what I say. I'm telling you, there were 30 GMs in that room and there's no appetite for an automatic penalty...At some point, a player has a responsibility for keeping his head up, too."

"It's supposed to be a tough physical game, and part of that is you've got to protect yourself. You have to avoid putting yourself in vulnerable positions...In the leagues where they've put in an automatic penalty, I think it's dramatically reduced hitting. We have no desire to reduce the amount of contact that takes place on our ice surface."

This is the kind of mentality that will get players hurt and possibly even worse. There is nothing that should stand in the way of enacting a penalty that specifically targets the perpetrators who aim for an opponent's head. Take the major junior leagues in North America and even USA Hockey and Hockey Canada: THEY ALL HAVE PENALTIES SPECIFICALLY FOR HITS TO THE HEAD! I, myself, have called a fair share of these penalties in an attempt to not only enforce the rules that I'm there to uphold, but also to educate the players in the younger age groups that it is not okay to target another player's head.

Paul Kelly, Director of the NHLPA, has been fighting for this issue since March, when he originally came forward and proposed a penalty to punish intentional hits to the head. Not until this past week, did the League propose a meeting to discuss the volatile topic. Here is what the player's are proposing as reported in the Vancouver Sun:

"The rule that our players have proposed … No. 1, it has to be a player who's in a vulnerable position. No. 2, in the judgment of the official, the attacking player has to target the head of that vulnerable player, and No. 3, he has to make contact with that head with any part of his body, including the shoulder. So there's elements of intent, targeting and vulnerability."

Kelly goes on to say:

"This notion that we're trying to take hitting out of the game, or aggressiveness ... that's not it at all. We believe the rule we've proposed strikes the right balance between protecting players and keeping the physicality in the game."

It's safe to say that the current system to address this problem has failed miserably and it's time for a change. As of now, the discipline for hits such as the Kronwall/Havlat incident default to NHL Discipline Czar, Colin Campbell. Needless-to-say, most of the decisions that Campbell has made in his tenure at the position have been mind-boggling and questionable at best (see: Scott Walker not receiving a mandatory suspension for cold-cocking an unsuspecting Aaron Ward in the Hurricanes/Bruins ECQF). Either it's time to take some of the punishment power out of his hands and give it to the on-ice officials or maybe some restructuring is in order.

Whatever happens, unless this growing issue is addressed, it is plausible to think that someday in the near future a tragedy that no one wants to acknowledge will occur and the NHL will be scrambling to save face in the wake of a disaster. In my opinion, it's time to take a stand and protect the players and the game we hold so dear as fans.

Let us know what you think in the poll below.

Thanks for giving my first go on Lighthouse a read. I'll be sure to keep up as high a quality of information as I can.

Also, don't forget to check out my website, Isles Official's Outlook, for Islanders-related content, especially pertaining to the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

Cheers, everybody.