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NHL tells players to buzz off over rule change

On Monday, we learned that the NHLPA would submit a ‘band aid solution’ to the NHL’s proposed head-shot rule, which would make blind-sided hits the head illegal. Some felt that the NHLPA’s attempt at delaying an immediate rule change was a big ‘up your’s’ to the league that is tied to disputes between the league and the PA.

I wasn’t so certain it was just a matter of politics and the players wanting to ensure there wasn’t an off-the-cuff rule change being instituted in the midst of the season without completely covering every aspect of the rule change in the summer. The NHLPA had originally wanted any and all head shots made illegal two years ago but the league shot that down; now the NHL just wants to make some head shots illegal. There’s going to be some natural hesitation on the part of the players.

After last night’s news that the NHL Board of Governors had gone ahead and approved the rule without prior agreement by the NHLPA, it’s a certainty that politics are at play here when both sides should solely be focused on player safety.

Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, used the opportunity to blast the NHLPA. From TSN:

“Our Board can enact rule changes at any time with or without Competition Committee approval,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in response to the NHLPA statement. “To the extent the Competition Committee has approved the rule change in advance, it is entirely insulated from PA challenge. To the extent it is not a Competition Committee-approved rule, the PA is free to challenge under whatever “theory” they may have available to it. We have been attempting to work through the PA and the Competition Committee for 10 days now on what the League considers to be a very important issue. To the extent we do not receive NHLPA or Competition Committee sign-off or approval, we will consider all available options and make a decision in the best interests of the League and the players.”

Basically Daly is saying that the NHL has the ability to institute any rule change they want at any time, and that getting the NHLPA approval is just a matter of common courtesy. Since the PA wanted to drag its feet and slow the process down, the Board of Governors went ahead and approved the change anyway.

It’s important to clarify, however, that there is not a new ‘rule’ being instituted this season that would add a minor or major penalty to the rule book. The change would allow for supplemental action for blind sided hits, so that future Matt Cooke-style hits could actually be punished.

After news broke that the BOG had approved the change, the NHLPA released the following statement.

“Under the CBA, the League’s proposal cannot take effect until it first receives the support of the joint NHLPA/NHL Competition Committee, and then is endorsed by the NHL Board of Governors,” NHLPA senior spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said Tuesday night in a statement.

“To date, the Competition Committee has neither agreed on a proposal, nor forwarded a proposal to the Board of Governors for its vote. As we have previously stated, the NHLPA’s Competition Committee members are finalizing their response to the NHL’s proposal regarding blindside hits to the head and will be responding back to the league this week.”

So, the NHL passed a change that the NHLPA had not approved and the PA says the league cannot do that according to the CBA. In fact, under league rules the NHL can make a rule change without the player’s consent. The PA would then follow up with a grievance to be heard by an arbitrator, most likely months down the road. Meanwhile, the new rule would still be in place.

The NHLPA’s statement was followed by a response by Daly to Pierre LeBrun of

Daly continued: “Without trying to throw anyone under the bus here, let’s be real. This is a rule that’s intended to make the game safer for the players. Its a no-brainer. The PA needs a hockey person, or at a minimum a player, who is willing to take charge, to step up and make a decision in the best interests of the game.

“It’s one thing to ‘punt’ on all the more mundane issues surrounding the game until the Union has a new Executive Director and a clear direction. We are used to that. But this is different. Someone needs to show leadership, and they need to do it fast.”

This is a mess of massive proportions, and both sides have mud on their faces.

The NHL can make it sound like they have nothing but the players interests and safety at heart, but in reality this rule change is nothing but a reaction to the public outcry over the dangerous hits we’re seeing this season and how the league has maintained they can’t punish players for them.

If they truly cared about these hits, then the proposed rule change two years ago would have been passed. Instead, the general managers just happen to meet the day after Matt Cooke’s disastrous hit on Marc Savard and the NHL decided that this might be a good time to get a change in place. And instead of addressing all head-shots, the NHL focuses on a very specific type of hit relative to two very specific hits we’ve seen this season. Not very proactive at all.

The NHLPA on the other hand, finally sees a change come down the pipeline but only including part of what they originally proposed just a few years ago. It’s a change that is certainly needed, but the PA decides that they want to control how this goes down and releases a statement that they will send along a counter proposal. It slowed the process down, and the NHL responded with their own “Eff You!” and passed the rule on their own and trashed the NHLPA during the process.

So instead of a needed rule change that everyone agrees needs to be in place getting passed with handshakes all around, we have the NHL and the PA using this very public opportunity to circle each other in a political battle that leaves both sides looking bad.

At some point, we’ll all get around to actually trying to make the game better and then possibly marketing the sport to more fans. That would be an ideal concept.