COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Good afternoon. Obviously to my left is Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell.
And I want to start off by giving you a report on today's, and actually yesterday's deliberations by the general managers on the game itself. I think the two overriding points that I hope everybody takes away is that one, the game on the ice is good; it's entertaining; it's exciting; it's competitive and for the most part, everybody is extremely pleased with the season we are having.
Having said that, obviously point number two, is we are very focused on safety. It's important as a priority. It was the focus of the deliberations, both in the large group and in the smaller groups and the many hours of discussions that have been had on the subject of player safety is something that we are giving paramount importance.
If I can summarize the overwhelming view of the group in terms of what we are now going to be focused on, let me lay out the following: There seems to be, particularly in light of the statistics as to how and where concussions are being caused, and that was the information that was shared with this group yesterday after our session; boarding and charging is a focus of attention for us, particularly in terms of seeking stricter enforcement, more aggressive enforcement.
And in that regard, we are going to be looking to articulate a standard, which is consistent with being stricter, more aggressive, in terms of the enforcement, a standard that the officials and the players can be comfortable with and we'll take out some of the acts that are not being called as boarding or charging and making them penalties and perhaps beyond.
In that regard, we are also looking at hits and boarding calls or non-calls below the goal line, and we want to look at the force and the distance traveled, particularly in that context, as well.
With respect to head hits, I think all of you, based on the feedback we got, were -- surprise might not be the right word but it was interesting to learn that that doesn't seem to be where most of the concussions are coming from.
But having said that, we are going to look at head hits. There is not support on a widespread basis for a blanket head hit rule, but we are going to look to see if we can come up with a head hit rule in addition to Rule 48 that focuses on dangerous hits; hits when a player is vulnerable, or engaged with another player and a third player comes in, or where there is excessive force.
So we are going to see if we can get something more precise than a blanket head hit rule in part because when you see how the concussions are being caused and the number, when you look at the experience in other leagues where they are still having concussions, we think if you're going to have even more of a head hit rule than we have on Rule 48, we need to do it with more precision and we are going to try to see if we can define something using those factors.
The group also believes for next year, there should be longer suspensions and supplemental discipline, especially as it relates to head hits and repeat offenders. We are going to continue our work on equipment to see if we can make it less weapon-like. We think it's important that there's an education process for players in two respects; one, in terms of awareness and understanding what's going on around them on the ice so that they can better protect themselves.
This is really an effort that we think needs to be directed at younger players; and education, as well, a process we have begun. We made a video in conjunction with the Players Association to educate players on concussions; so there is more and even better self-reporting.
There was some discussion of playing rules, such as the trapezoid and the sense overwhelmingly of the group was, we should focus on the things I've just described to you before we look to start picking apart some of the things that we did six years ago that have made the game as good as it is.
So there's no immediate call or suggestion that we should be undermining or undoing some of those playing rules.
The group in particular was extremely supportive of what I outlined to you yesterday about trying to create a softer environment for the players to play in, and with respect to coach and team accountability for clubs that have players that are repeatedly suspended.
Now, putting all of this in context, these are the recommendations. The committee that I named yesterday of Messrs. Shanahan, Blake, Nieuwendyk, Yzerman will be doing the follow-up work with hockey operations. They will report back to the general managers.
Obviously we will be working on these initiatives with the Players Association and the competition committee. Ultimately we hope to be in a position to report back to the Board of Governors at its June meeting, but again, I do want to emphasize that these are obviously things that we do and will do in conjunction with the players and these are the recommendations of the managers.
Colie, is there anything you would like to add?
COLIN CAMPBELL: I think in support of the general managers and what Gary just said, our managers looked at all of the issues that have been hot buttons for the fans and the media this year, and there's been incidents, as there is every year in, certain games that raise the level of intensity in certain markets.
Our managers looked at the big picture. They are a good group of hockey people with varied experience, but a lot of experience. I think they addressed all of the incidents that sometimes raise more attention than others in the scope of what's good for the game and how we should run things. As Gary mentioned, as far as supplemental discipline is concerned, all of the managers wanted to raise the bar for next year. And also wanted to raise the bar for repeat offenders, and that's something we have heard quite a bit and it's something that when we do it, it's something that all managers must --- they [general managers] are going to fight the good fight for their player, but it's something that we all have to do as a league and as a group; endorse what we are seeing here at this meeting.
Q. Obviously there was report of a letter from Mario Lemieux, is it going in the direction with what you told us yesterday; that you want to make teams accountable, and can it go as far, that far?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, we are going to formulate exactly how it will work, but my intention is as it has been, and we have had discussions during the course of this season, about a program that would hold clubs and coaches accountable for clubs that have players that repeatedly get into trouble.
Q. Sorry, if I'm getting again with that Pacioretty hit; the Chara hit on Pacioretty. But what was suggested today, the use of force, could it be a different story with the new rules? What I'm meaning is, could it have been any suspension with what's proposed today on the table compared to what exists right now?
COLIN CAMPBELL: We don't pretend to have the knowledge on every hit or every play that happens. But we think we do have the knowledge and we have the experience and background within hockey operations; but we constantly get some balance and get some direction from the group of managers.
As I've said, we have managers that have played in the 60s and 70s and managers who have come off the ice recently. We have got a pretty good feel on that hit, and the direction and the feedback we got is that it's not something that -- anything we did today referred to the Pacioretty/Chara hit. So it's nothing we thought was wrong in the hit.
We feel that some of the things we are going to look at, the playing surface, the boards, the extensions, are things that we have to do; the equipment. But the actions of the player involved there, we didn't feel there was anything wrong after we reviewed everything today.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: And I think by the "we," Colie was referring to the fact that when we polled the managers, overwhelmingly they thought it was a hockey play and a bad, unfortunate, horrific accident.
Q. You mentioned yesterday legal north/south hits to the head are a small percentage of concussions, but hockey operations says it accounts for 14 percent of all your concussions this season. So I wonder, in that context, this study that you mentioned about looking into hits to the head, could you talk a little bit more about that and explain a little bit more about how that would work?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I'm not sure what you mean by the "study," and I wasn't suggesting to minimize it. The point that we were trying to share with this group yesterday was if you look at the data, we are seeing concussions caused by legal hits, by accidents, collisions and the like.
And there are two, I suspect, reasons, why the managers are not comfortable with a blanket head hit rule. One is, because you're using too large a response relative to the fact that by the time the season is over, there will be 55,000 hits, and a small percentage are resulting in concussions. We want to eliminate concussions, but the view is, if we can define a rule that makes sense and doesn't cause other negative problems in the game, we are going to try and do that, if it's possible.
Q. So when you mentioned the GMs are going to look at -- examine that a little more closely.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: It's the small committee of Messrs. Shanahan, Blake, Yzerman and Nieuwendyk are going to report back. They have been tasked with looking at it and seeing if they think there's a sensible way to have a rule that's very specific to deal with this in ways that they think are consistent with the game. And if I wasn't precise on that before, I apologize.
Q. When examining the hits that were deemed legal hits that resulted in concussions, and thinking about the changes that the general managers are thinking about suggesting, what number of those hits, roughly, at this time next year, maybe wouldn't be legal, deemed legal hits, resulting in concussion?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I'm not comfortable giving you a number yet, because we have not drafted the rule yet. The sense was, there were a number of instances of boarding and charging, which while legal under the current rules, may be the types of hits that we can take out of the game, keep the fundamental physicality of the game, and reduce injuries and concussions.
I think a good chunk, but I don't want to tie myself down to a number or percentage yet, because once the rule is drafted, then we'll be in a better position to figure out exactly what we have targeted.
But to answer your question slightly differently, there are some legal hits currently under the rules that we may think it appropriate to now going forward make illegal.
Q. Could you just spell out the time line and the process for articulating these rules and drafting them so that we are just clear on that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: This is my hope, my expectation, but it's not carved in stone because there is work to be done. I am hoping that the committee will over the next few weeks deliberate, do its work, do its study, consult with whomever they it feel they need to consult with; interface with the Players Association, keep periodically reporting back to the managers.
So that by the time we get to June, we have a pretty good sense of where we want to be; that the competition committee is in a position to focus on it and sign off on it, as well; and that we are in a position by the end of June when we have a board meeting to have this all put together.
Whether or not the committee finds that we have given them enough is a question we don't know because they have not started their work yet; whether or not the Players' Association is comfortable with what we are doing and is on the same time frame is something that I cannot predict.
Although I know that the Players Association is concerned about these player safety issues, as well, and we are hoping and expect that they will be treating it as expeditiously as we are, and making sure that everything is buttoned down.
I think it's more important to get this right than to do it by a date certain. But my expectation is worst, worst, worst case, we need to be ready for next season.
Q. I wanted to ask Colie, when you are talking about repeat offenders and fining coaches or teams as Lemieux suggested, what extra layer of responsibility or stress does that put on hockey operations, and how do you manage that on top of the actual discipline?
COLIN CAMPBELL: It doesn't add any extra layer, nor does it add any extra stress. There's always stress. What it does encompass is we know, we have a good feel; there's not a game that goes by that we don't watch and report on from a number of different circumstances, officiating, supplemental discipline, and we get a feel for how the game is going.
We relate to the managers what individuals we feel generally are repeat offenders. Each year we try to get a definition of repeat offender. You can use a general term, repeat offender. But as a repeat offender, someone who has been suspended over the last ten years, the last one year, is a certain type of hit that repeat offender has delivered.
The one area that we did target and come to I think an agreement in this meeting is the way a head is targeted, the way a shoulder is raised and driven into a player's head, that's something that we are going to focus on.
And the most important thing is I keep repeating to the managers, and this group should know, as well, that you can talk all you want about different rules and how we are going to play the game and how we should play the game, but the three most important groups that need to know this interpretation are the coaches, the referees and the players, and those -- you talk about time lines; that's the most important time line.
Once you've done all the work, whatever group does the work, you have to get that interpretation to those three groups because those it are the groups that have to deal with it eventually.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Also to further answer your question, I don't view it as an additional stress and strain. This is an aspect of commissioner discipline. And I've been actually thinking about something that is fairly automatic once thresholds are reached so that teams at this point will understand that it almost becomes self effectuating.
Q. It seems like there are a lot of fans and people that follow hockey that thought that that hit last week on Pacioretty was pretty scary and is something that they don't want to see. I'm talking about fans and people around the game. How can we explain that overwhelmingly general managers thought that that play was fine; it was okay.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: No, that would be an unfair characterization. It was a hockey play. It was an accident. It had a horrific result. And that's what we hope people understand and in response to that, we are going to be looking at softening the environment and maybe doing something with board and glass, for example, that could prevent horrific accidents in the future of that nature.