Mirtle asks, Do you understand the NHL's Head Shot Rule?

Yes, I do. And this (quoting Colin Campbell in the article) "one area where it's still acceptable to have contact with a player's head" is not in the rule. I've read the rule. I've cited it in its entirety in past posts. It's just not there. Campbell can talk all he wants about secret DVDs that he sent out to the GMs after the fact, DVDs which "clarify" what will be called and what won't (if by "clarify" he means "confuse"), but since no players and many GMs (there was an article to this effect the other day; the Cox piece maybe) have never heard of this "hitting zone" behind the net -- which is the theoretical secret free head-shot zone that no-one except Raffi Torres was privy to -- I can only assume Campbell is pulling this out of his ***.

Do you understand the NHL's head shot rule? - The Globe and Mail
Campbell was on the Fan 590 last night attempting to explain how the rule works, and the first question he was asked was, does he feel that Torres hit should be against the rules, even though it currently isn't? "Do you want my honest answer?" Campbell asked. "I don't know anymore."

Which seems like a problem.

No kidding.

[lots more after the jump]

Campbell went on to say that "Rule 48 has really gone sideways out there. Everybody thinks we disallow shoulder hits to the head. We don't.

Don't you? Two points.

Point #1

(a) Blindside hits to the head are illegal; (b) hits from behind are illegal; (c) hits which cause a player to slam his head into the boards are illegal (boarding); (d) any violent body check of any kind can be deemed charging; (e) charging, boarding and elbowing can all be five-minute majors if there's an intent to injure; (f) the league can review any play, whether it was penalized on the ice or not, and suspend players who violate any of these rules...

...to which I will add golden and irrefutable point (g): all intentional hits to the head are by definition intent to injure. There is no, nor can there be any, other purpose. Every strategic purpose of any check, whether a body check or a poke check (what we used to call stick checks, poke, sweep, etc.) is to "check" the opponent (as in chess, to neutralize) by impeding him, taking him out of the play. That is the (original) meaning of "finishing your check." Finishing doesn't mean decapitating or otherwise devastating your opponent. It means preventing him from participating in the play by "staying with" the check. Notice that this "staying with" is frequently at odds with the spectacular, highlight reel body check. (Remember how many times opponents would score on the Kings while the crowd was still cheering one of Rob Blake's devastating ass-checks? The cheer would sound like Yeahhhhhhh-oh [silence].)

The fact is, back before we knew about the long-term health consequences of concussions, head shots used to be considered a viable strategy; either you knock the player out of the game, or you rattle him, or you throw him off his game. All good. But now that we know the repercussions of this strategy, it's no longer morally acceptable. It's not defensible. You can't kill or permanently cripple an opponent as a point of strategy.

Point #2

The fact that "everybody" (Campbell's word) thinks the rule says one thing while the league privately knows the rule says another thing is a catastrophic breakdown in communication. My guess is this is intentional. The league wanted a rule which appeared to ban head-shots, but which it knew (in its lawyerly way) actually didn't. Supporting this interpretation is the fact that the league didn't come out and say, from the beginning, WE ALLOW HEADSHOTS IN MANY SITUATIONS.

Bonus point #3

The fact that the league knows players and management think they are protected (by the rules) from head-shots, when (as the league also knows) they are not, strikes me as something that gives the league legal culpability. The players are assuming an undisclosed health risk. The sports equivalent of "we knew there were toxins in the water supply but we didn't tell you because then you wouldn't drink the water!"

Look at it this way: if my kid was playing in a youth league, and he was concussed intentionally by another player, and it turned out that the league had undisclosed rules that said that action was allowed, I would sue that league and I would win. Players cannot assume risks they don't know exist.

Back to Campbell's "explanation":

Rule 48 almost prescribed where they're not allowed on the ice in certain situations.

Holy f***ing Moses on a bike!  "ALMOST prescribed"??? Exactly. Almost, as in "didn't prescribe." In fact, since the secret DVD came out afterwards -- forget that it was disseminated to essentially no-one -- at best you could say it was "postscribed." If that was a word, which it's not.

The fact that Campbell, whose entire existence seems (to me) frequently to be one never-ending Reagan-esque monologue of denial and misdirection, can't even summon the energy to say the "hitting zone" thing is prescribed (i.e. written) in the rules, but can only say "well, almost, very nearly, could have would have should have been..." tells me all I need to know.

"Rule 48 almost prescribed where [head-shots] are not allowed" means "Rule 48 doesn't prescribe where head-shots are not allowed."

We pointed out where it's still acceptable to have contact, your shoulder with a player's head, and this is one area."

But you didn't point it out in the rulebook. You pointed it out in a DVD sent out to GMs and apparently ignored by most of them. A DVD which virtually no-one has seen. And which, I'll bet you, when we finally get a look at the "hitting zone" example video, will leave the whole issue entirely unresolved and open to interpretation. Which is, obviously, the point.

All head-shots are already illegal. Refs can call every one of them if they so choose. And the league can suspend anyone who intentionally checks a player in the head, again, if they so choose. They didn't even need Rule 48 for this to be the case. So why did they need Rule 48?

I'm pretty sure it was just P.R..