Video via The Malik Report on KuklasKorner.

Last night on Hockey Night in Canada, they discussed a plan to make the NHL’s infamous rule 48 less confusing… or more confusing… we’re not exactly sure.  However we’re pretty sure the phrase “shades of grey” will remain in the rule no matter what.

Right now it looks like the league is planning on removing the phrase “lateral or blind side” from the rule, leaving it as: “A hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

There would also be a change where a two minute or five minute penalty would be called for a hit where the head is targeted. The length of the penalty is not yet decided upon.

“We came up with Rule 48 and now we’re broadening it,” said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland to ESPN.com.

“We’re trying to stay in tune with where the game is at and where the game is going. The players are bigger, faster, stronger. The game is more physical. We’ve obviously had a number of injuries with regards to concussions. And now we’re trying to broaden Rule 48 to make it a safer workplace.”

Of course, changing the rule won’t eliminate the guesswork that comes with it. It will leave us to debate whether or not “the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact” on hits and there will certainly be some controversy when a whenever penalty is called for a head shot. It also doesn’t change the controversy that surrounds each suspension or lack thereof.

However, it’s a big step in the right direction.

Changes to the rule would also eliminate the dreaded “hitting zone” behind the net where anything goes. The NHL’s version of international waters, where everything from head shots to monkey knife fights is permitted, would disappear if “north-south” head shots were treated the same way as “east-west” head shots.

“Right now, the notion that a player in one part of the ice would be treated differently than a player somewhere else on the ice with a similar hit -the sense is, let’s take that hit out,” said Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke. “If … a player is vulnerable, let’s take that hit out regardless where it occurs.”

There still seems to be a lot of debate about the semantics of the rule and, unfortunately, that’s likely going to be a problem.

The NHL has always had to walk the line between “protecting the players from injury” and “keeping contact in the game.” They don’t want to issue a blanket statement that head shots should be against the rules out of fear that doing so will remove hitting from hockey.

However, even though we’re in the middle of the Stanley Cup Final, a lot of the focus has still been on head shots. This is bad publicity for the league and it could hurt the NHL’s chances of growing further as a sport. Recently several stars have missed significant time due to concussions so if there was ever a time for the NHL to issue a concrete rule on head shots, it’s now.

Unfortunately, that’s going to be very difficult. It will continue to be tough to tell the difference between an “illegal head shot” and a “good hockey check” in many cases. Hockey is a fast game and referees will need to make split-second decisions as to whether or not the head “was targeted” or if it was “the principal point of contact.”

As long as referee discretion remains and as long as the league is inconsistent with supplementary discipline, there will be problems and anger from all sides.

That’s why this rule becomes so difficult and confusing and why eliminating head shots is so tough to do. This is certainly a rocky road that the NHL will need to navigate.

Comments (2)

  1. [...] leading to little confidence in future decisions.There’s hope on the horizon for hockey, with changes possibly coming to Rule 48. For now though, there’s greater faith in player safety for a sport in which a physical [...]

  2. Why dont they let the refs call upstairs during the game and let the people up there watch the replays and decide the severity of the penalty, refs have enough to watch for as it is, never mind if shoulder hit head or not

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