SBD/March 16, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk Advocates Lifetime Ban On Headhunters

Melnyk says league cannot afford for players to miss time due to concussions
Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk yesterday on Toronto's The Fan 590-AM said that the NHL "needs to ban players found guilty of headhunting," according to Bruce Garrioch of the OTTAWA SUN. Melnyk: "You hit a guy in the head: You're gone and I mean gone. A deliberate hit, you don't play hockey anymore. That's the way you're going to do it. You're gone. ... If it's an accidental hit that could have been avoided -- just because you're stupid and you just skated the wrong way but you hit the guy, fine, 20-game suspension." Melnyk said that the league "can't afford to lose star players like" Penguins C Sidney Crosby and Senators C Jason Spezza, both of whom have been sidelined by concussions this season (OTTAWA SUN, 3/16). In Toronto, Damien Cox writes it "certainly sounded like Melnyk," like Penguins co-Owner Mario Lemieux and Canadiens Owner Geoff Molson previously, was a "governor looking for a much more drastic approach to the problem." That is "hardly standard procedure" for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's administration, "which desperately wants to control the message on all NHL matters." Cox: "Suddenly, it seems Bettman's grip over the league's owners, a major reason why he has been able to stay in power for 18 years, doesn't seem quite as tight" (TORONTO STAR, 3/16).

COMPLETE BAN UNLIKELY: SPORTING NEWS TODAY's Craig Custance notes NHL GMs at their meetings "have taken strong steps this week to make the game safer." Suspensions "will be longer, starting next season," more "boarding and charging calls will be made, and more questionable hits will result in supplemental discipline." But the "belief that the NHL is ultimately headed down a road to completely ban hits to the head is fading." Blues GM Doug Armstrong: "If we felt we were going to get there eventually, I think we'd get there today. I don't think there's a sentiment that we have to get to that level" (SPORTING NEWS TODAY, 3/16). Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said that there "was no appetite for 'a blanket ban' as such hits can also come from a perfectly legal body check." The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor notes the league "maintains most concussions this year have come from legal hits, though there is much public debate over what should be legal" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/16). However, in Montreal, Pat Hickey writes the GMs "had a chance to make a statement about head shots at their annual general meeting, but instead came up with a series of proposals to tighten enforcement of the existing rules" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/16).

CAN'T TAKE VIOLENCE OUT OF HOCKEY
: In Ft. Lauderdale, Mike Berardino writes, "Concussions? Sure, the NHL wants to reduce them, but not at the expense of good, clean, violent, ticket-selling fun." NHL VP/Hockey & Business Development Brendan Shanahan: "We're fooling ourselves if we say there aren't going to be any injuries in hockey or anything like that." Burke: "We've got to take out the more dangerous hits, make it safer for the players, but keep hitting in the game. ... Players are still going to get hurt. Players are still going to get hit" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 3/16). Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson believes that concussions "cannot be ruled out of a game where physical contact is part of the play." Wilson: "You don't have to hit your head to get a concussion. ... We can ban fighting, but there's still going to be fighting in the game" (TORONTO STAR, 3/16). Also in Toronto, Steve Buffery notes a group of "concerned fans" protested "on-ice violence outside the Bell Centre" prior to last night's Capitals-Canadiens game. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, "You don't like it, don't come to the games. I think the players realize that they can get hurt." Buffery: "Amen to ... Boudreau for putting these hypocritical 'fans' in their place" (TORONTO SUN, 3/16).

NEW DEAN OF DISCIPLINE?
ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote under the header, "Now Is Time To Replace Colin Campbell." Burnside: "If indeed this is a brand-new day for the NHL when it comes to getting tough on its dangerous players, isn't it likewise time for a new sheriff to preside over this new landscape." GMs "have asked for stiffer suspensions, especially when it comes to blows to the head and repeat offenders," and that "dovetails nicely with Bettman's announcement Monday that teams, along with executives and possibly coaches, will be fined if they breach a threshold in terms of number of suspensions." But Burnside wrote while the proposed changes are "laudable, they reflect significant flaws in the system and how the job was carried out under Campbell," the league's Senior Exec VP/Hockey Operations. Burnside: "In general Campbell has been seen as too soft on players. ... Is it not a natural break point for someone new to come in for next season and preside over these new guidelines?" (ESPN.com, 3/15).
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