On Wednesday, a group of NHL GMs finally came up with some sort of rule against headshots in the league, which they'll bring forward to the league's competition committee for final approval--apparently almost a technicality, given the support a rule against headshots has received from the members of the committee. The new rule, from SBN/NHL, has been phrased more to target blindside hits to the head:
"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or is the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."
So, what does this new rule mean for the Ottawa Senators? Well, first and foremost, it means our skilled players won't have to deal with vicious blindside hits, like this one from a few years back, when Daniel Alfredsson was hammered by Mark Bell after he put the puck on net. But it also means a couple of our players who walk the fine line between legal and not will have a new alignment to walk.
The Sens have two players who will have to take heed to this new 'blindside hit rule': Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil. Although the Sens fan in me puts these players on a level higher than players like Matt Cooke, whose hit on Marc Savard really gave this rule what it needed to get going, the realist in me acknowledges that both of these players have, in the recent past, thrown bodychecks that would be illegal under that new rule.
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Exhibit A in the Chris Neil file? His blindside hit on Chris Drury, then of the Buffalo Sabres, on February 22, 2007, which brought about the memorable line brawl featuring Ray Emery taking on Martin Biron:
The hit wasn't a headshot in the same way the Cooke-Savard and the Mike Richards-David Booth hits were: The principal point of contact in this hit is likely the chest, which climbs up to the head. It was, however, a blindside check on a vulnerable player by one exerting back-pressure.
Then there's Jarkko Ruutu, largely regarded as one of the most infuriating players in the league--but one who rarely crosses the line between playful heckling and dangerous bodychecks. He has, however, crossed that line before, including this hit on Patrick Kaleta from earlier this season (Dec. 16, 2009), coincidentally once again against Buffalo:
This was a blindside and a headshot, and fits the bill for hits the league would like to eliminate. Based on his reaction, it doesn't seem like Ruutu was intentionally gunning for Kaleta's head, but there's little doubt he wanted to throw a punishing hit on the Sabres' pest.
Will the blindside rule limit the effectiveness of either Neil or Ruutu? I don't think so. Both of the Senators' pests have thrown blindside hits in the past, but their pestiness is based on much more than that, particularly big, clean hits they can throw (in Neil's case) and an absolutely aggravating grin (Ruutu, obviously). But even if it does, it's worthwhile, because we won't have to deal with watching more star players carried off on stretchers--keeping Alfredsson from getting blindsided is more important than giving opponents fear for their safety and well-being.