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Shanahan, Pronger, Snow on the NHL's head hit debate

It's a game day (a particularly torturous one for my long-held dual loyalties), but the preview will wait until after we know more about how the Islanders will deal with the Rob Schremp injury.

In the meantime, the NHL GMs agreed on language for a proposed head hit rule:

"A lateral, back pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or is the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy (whose parsing of Richards/Booth vs. Cooke/Savard I disagree with) believes that this wording would disallow the Doug Weight hit on Brandon Sutter last season. I don't agree with that, either, though it's possible the NHLPA (at least when this came up last year) might. There was nothing "lateral, back pressure or blind-side" about Weight's hit. That hit was face-to-face, and as I argued then, the biggest factor was that Sutter lunged forward (and down) to poke the puck forward at the last second:

Doug Weight-Brandon Sutter Hit

Pronger: Opposed ... Shock!

Meanwhile, naturally an opponent of a rule modification here is Philadelphia's Chris Pronger, who has based the physical side of his career on the premise that he really doesn't have to worry about whether any of his on-ice actions might seriously hurt his union :cough: brothers :cough::

"So, you’re going to let up when a guy has his head down, so then he beats you to the net and scores a goal in a big playoff game or a crucial game towards the tail end of the regular season? Then, you’re getting critiqued by the media and the fans: why didn’t you hit him?"

Though he apparently pays attention to what media and fans say about his play, I'm not sure Pronger has been paying attention to this debate (we're talking about late and blind hits, hits that don't really stop a guy beating you). Either that, or Pronger is just, out of self-preservation, categorically opposed to any rule that would limit his ability to do whatever the hell he wants (short of stomping, of course). But after watching so much of the talented yet oft-undisciplined defenseman's career, no reaction by Captain Elbows ever surprises me.

Shanahan: Thoughtful, Instructive

Of far more interest to me was the perspective of a player Pronger was once traded for, Brendan Shanahan. Though now retired, Shanahan played in today's game of faster speeds, bigger bodies, and reduced obstruction (which allows for more freight train collisions). And his words on the matter from earlier this week (before the language was finalized) display both a sincere recognition of the need for a rule as well as an articulate explanation of the thin line and on-ice pressures and split-second decisions players face when hitting each other at NHL speeds.

Suffice to say, if it's a question of players' health, I'd rather take the testimony of Shanahan -- he of 2,489 regular season PIM himself -- than that of Pronger, he of the slash/elbow/stomp first, deny-responsibility-later approach.

Regardless of where you stand, this Shanahan interview was worth the listen and a productive part of the debate:

Garth Snow Interview

Finally, Garth Snow was also asked about the head shot issue during this audio interview posted at the Islanders' official site. As is so often the case with Snow, he doesn't reveal much on that topic (and to be fair, he wasn't in the breakout group that specifically addressed the head-hit language).

Snow also doesn't divulge much about his trade deadline strategy, other than to say the offer for Sutton was too nice to pass up and the injury to Andrew MacDonald was awful timing. But his thoughts (albeit moderated) on the rebuild were still worth a listen -- and might even be a sign of Snow slowly opening up a bit. I'll take what I can get.

This is actually my biggest complaint about Snow: By all accounts he's thoughtful, strategic, engaging and funny -- off the record. But when it comes to discussing GM strategy on the record, he's top-line sanitized, by-the-book, corporate-PR-like. Don't say anything that might be construed to make a previous decision look bad, and by god don't say too much. As opposed to Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles and Bob Murray in Anaheim -- who tend to have moments of enlightening elaboration about the thought process behind their moves -- Snow doesn't seem to go that way or, possibly, even believe in it.

The counter-argument to my complaint is that you don't hire a GM to talk, you hire him to build your team. And as far as hockey markets go, Southern California is not Long Island, so maybe Lombardi and Murray have to do more than your average GM. Yet the Islanders do not sell out often, they lose money -- and here they are asking season ticket holders to pay more and/or pay up early on top of a parking fee increase, all for a team making three consecutive bottom-five finishes.

In my mind, it's a team that could use all the PR help it can get, and having your GM let fans see a glimpse of what he's doing does not backfire -- it actually engages fans and builds buy-in to what you're doing.  But I've got a background in the dark world of PR, so I would say that.