NHL GM Meetings in Florida: Are the Winds of Change Blowing?

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 08:  NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a press conference before the NHL game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on March 8, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The General Managers of all 30 NHL teams have been meeting with Gary Bettman and Co. this week in Florida.

Given a rash of hits to the head and concussions this season—Sidney Crosby is out with a concussion suffered on a hit from behind by Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman, and Max Pacioretty is likely out for the season after being hit into the stanchion between the two player benches—there has been a singular focus at the meetings.

In the aftermath of the NHL's decision not to suspend Zdeno Chara for his hit on Pacioretty, Montreal's ownership and management team vowed to take up the issue at these same GM meetings.

And so far, it seems that their message has been heard.

Montreal has certainly not been the lone voice campaigning for change as Penguins' GM, Ray Shero, has also been asking for an outright ban of head shots.

So after some consideration, the much maligned Gary Bettman has reacted by putting in place a five-point plan aimed at making the game safer.

Here is how it breaks down:

1. Former NHLer and current NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Development, Brendan Shanahan, will work with the NHL Players' Association on equipment reforms aimed at maximizing player protection and safety.

2. The second point, which Bettman says will be in place by the end of the week, is a revision to current concussion protocols.

Up till now, a player who was suspected of being concussed could be examined on the bench by the team's athletic therapist and cleared to return to play. Now, however, if a player is suspected of being concussed they, must be removed from the bench and taken to a quiet area where they can be assessed by a medical doctor—not the team's athletic therapist. The player will then be given a SCAT test before he is cleared to return to play.

3. Championed by Penguins' owner and former NHL All-Star Mario Lemieux, players who are deemed to be repeat offenders for illegal hits to the head will receive penalties as before, but their teams and/or head coach will also be fined.

This move puts the onus on the entire organization to ensure that the culture of injuring other players is removed from the game.

4. The league will have safety engineers do full evaluations of the playing area in each of the league's 30 rinks. Any safety "shortcomings" will have to be addressed and brought up to code, just like when a restaurant receives a failed health inspection report.

The first thing that comes to mind is the rigid seamless glass at the Bell Centre, which is scheduled to be changed for Plexiglas at season's end, and which certainly falls below these new safety standards.

5. The league will put together a panel to look at the issue of concussions going forward and on an ongoing basis. The panel would consist of Brendan Shanahan, along with former NHL defenseman Rob Blake, Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman and Dallas Stars' GM Joe Nieuwendyk.

So the NHL has spoken, and clearly plans on looking into this issue that has become somewhat of a plague over recent years.

But will it actually make a difference?

For anyone out there who is a fan of F1 racing, this reminds me of the period shortly after racing great Ayrton Senna was killed in a car crash during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

His crash and subsequent death put a freeze on the sport that would be lifted only after F1 took a serious look at the sport and how to make it safer. Ultimately, when F1 returned, the cars and tracks were slower, but the sport was much safer for all of the racers.

The NHL seems to be at the dawn of a similar era in NHL history. The only difference here is that, fortunately, no one had to die in order for the momentum to shift.

Despite the NHL's resistance to change its ways over recent year, doing a thorough self-examination to see if and how everything is working is never a bad thing and can hopefully prevent an on-ice fatality from ever becoming a reality.

So what do you think of the NHL's plan? Will it make a difference, or is it just lip service?

Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8-9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

Follow Kamal on Facebook, Twitter, HabsAddict.com and Hockeybuzz.com


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