Head hits are the hot topic of the day, from the GM Meetings down in Florida to chatter between NHL fans. Just to throw something out there, how about this for the official rule to ban hits to the head?
Penalty Summary: "Head hit" is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or above the neck of an opponent.
A player may not deliver a check in a “head hit” manner, nor raise his own body position to deliver a check on or above an opponent’s neck.
An illegal “head hit” is a check that is delivered by a player or goalkeeper who may or may not have both skates on the ice, with his sole intent to check the opponent in the area of his head. A player may not raise his body position to deliver a check to an opponent’s head.
Minor Penalty - A player who commits these fouls will be assessed a minor penalty for “head hit.”
Major Penalty - If an injury occurs as a result of this “head hit” check, the player must be assessed a major penalty.
Match Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by a "head hit".
Game Misconduct Penalty - A game misconduct penalty must be assessed anytime a major penalty is applied for injuring an opponent by a "head hit."
Is that too severe? That's basically saying that any check thrown high to make contact with the head is illegal. That means that punishing shoulder-led body checks that end up high, like the kind Scott Stevens made famous, would be illegal.
Ah, but here's the thing: that verbiage is exactly adapted from Rule 44, otherwise known as the clipping penalty. It's the exact verbiage except "at or below the knee" has essentially been replaced by "at or above the neck."
The clipping penalty is different from a tripping penalty. While tripping does involve play "at or below the knee," those rules are about causing a player to fall. Clipping is about impact on the knees and lower legs, which could cause serious damage. Incidental contact from, say, a player sliding on the ice isn't called; it's only when a player goes too low on his opponent.
These are pretty black-and-white plays, and the rulebook doesn't make any differentiation whether the victim was crouched or standing up or hunched over or in a prone position. If it's too low and targets the knees or below, it's a penalty. So far this season, only five players have been called for it: Jack Hillen, Jan Hejda, Andrej Meszaros, Dan Boyle, and Cory Sarich. In comparison, Scott Hartnell has four boarding calls by himself in 68 games.
So the NHL already explicitly protects players from checks below the knee. And while the hip check may be a dying artform, the clipping rule is there to essentially keep players from delivering the hip check -- which theoretically should impact around the waist -- too low, as that can easily lead to a variety of injuries.
Is it possible to regulate head hits similar to clipping? Body checks should theoretically hit between the chest and the shoulders; kids' coaches will tell you that anything above that is unnecessary and dangerous...just like a hip check below the knee is unnecessary and dangerous.
Of course, the argument against this will be the "He should have kept his head up" position, and here's the counterpoint to that -- on high-sticking calls, it doesn't matter where the victim is. A player is supposed to be in control of his stick at all times, and if his opponent is hunched over, a stick to the face is still a stick to the face. How many times have we seen players hunched over in a battle for position and WHAM, one guy gets a stick to the face? No one argues, "Well, he shouldn't have been hunched over" during those penalty calls."
Is this too black-and-white? High-sticking is fairly black-and-white. So is clipping. How hard will it be to create a rule to protect the head? Sure, there will be an adjustment period, but I get the feeling that if the rule and its enforcement adapt the existing clipping penalty, the game will be no worse for wear. We've seen players adjust to changes in rule enforcement since the lockout; isn't the security of NHLers' post-lockout lives worth giving it a chance?