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NHL tells players to buzz off over rule change

Mar 24, 2010, 9:53 AM EDT

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 ESPN.com:

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.

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