But can't all head-shots ALREADY be penalized?

Good article on ProHockeyTalk, which brings up for me my old hobby horse, the rule book.

Will the NHL eventually make all hits to the head illegal? | ProHockeyTalk
While ESPN’s Scott Burnside rightly asserts that the meetings will be the time in which change begins to take place, Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier wonders if the league will eventually take a drastic step toward curbing hits to the head. That step would be simple yet radical: will the NHL eventually make all hits to the head illegal? Various GMs discussed the concept with The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek. "To the extent that there are 360 degrees around a player’s head in a circle," Regier said, "and we’re now covering off under the current rules, I don’t know how many degrees. But I would think, ultimately, we will have to consider 360 degrees [for hits to the head]. "That’s the easy part. The really hard part is the role and responsibility that Colin [Campbell, the NHL’s senior vice-president of hockey operations] has. If anyone watches enough games, the deciphering of that is really the hard part while maintaining the fabric of the game," the Sabres GM said. "I wouldn’t view it as impossible. I would view it as doable, if that’s ultimately where we end up." A number of Regier’s colleagues, including Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, also believe the league will eventually need to make all head hits illegal. [...] The biggest strength to a no head shots policy is that there wouldn’t be much – if any- confusion regarding what is legal and illegal. [...] What do you think? Should hits to the head be illegal across the board? If not, how should the league make the game safer for its players?

I would rephrase that as, should the league get serious about using the rules that are already there, badly written though they sometimes are:

42.1 Charging - A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.

The absurd but possibly intentional open-endedness of that sentence (a penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates into an opponent in any manner?) essentially allows the refs to call any check to the head at their discretion.

Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A "charge" may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.

"As a result of distance traveled." All checks are "a result of distance traveled." There is no mention of how much distance (for example, the old rule of thumb of "more than two strides"). So any violent check may be penalized, including, obviously, checks to the head.


42.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by charging.

42.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.

Note that there is no mention of "blind side" hits. Any check to the head, even "head on," may fall under the charging rule.

I suppose you would have to interpret the "as a result of distance traveled" clause to mean that the charging player must not be stationary. In which case, a check to the head of a player would be allowed only if the checking player (1) is not moving, (2) does not use his elbow, knee, stick or head, (3) and does not intend to injure the player. In other words, if a player rams his head into your non-moving shoulder, torso or butt, that's his own stupid fault.

28.1 Supplementary Discipline - In addition to the automatic fines and suspensions imposed under these rules, the Commissioner may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may assess additional fines and/or suspensions for any offense committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, goalkeeper, Trainer, Manager, Coach or non-playing Club personnel or Club executive, whether or not such offense has been penalized by the Referee.

Does this not give Bettman the authority to suspend anyone for any check to the head (or any other infraction) after the fact, at his own sole discretion?

I would also add, as I always do in these head-shot debates, that any intentional check to the head is by definition an intent to injure.

I would be all in favor of adding specific language to the rule book, spelling out in explicit detail that -- for example -- all head-shots will result in major penalties plus game misconducts. But the rules are already in place for the refs to make this call, if there is the will to do so.