The single biggest issue in hockey for years now has been headhunting.
Intentional or not, hits to the head have become the most worrisome injury for NHL players, coaches and general managers.
The rules have been revised several times in hopes of trying to rid the game of such hits and reduce the alarming number of concussions caused by them while also trying to frame, in words, what kind of head hits constitute “headhunting” vs. incidental contact.
According to the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, the 2013-14 NHL rulebook was updated in early September to reflect changes to Rule 48.1 (Illegal Check to the Head) that better clarifies intentional head hits.
That rule previously read:
A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.
The NHL’s competition committee made a case that the word “targeted” was tough to determine and changed the language.
The new language for Rule 48.1 now reads:
A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable.
In trying to determine whether such hits are “avoidable,” Friedman said, the league will consider the following:
● Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent's body and the head was not "picked" as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.
● Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.
● Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.
This won’t stop hits to the head nor will it prevent the inevitable controversy that will follow after each one of these hits as to whether they were “avoidable,” but it adds a bit of clarity that should gain every player’s attention when throwing high hits on the ice.