PHILADELPHIA (AP) — NHL players who deliver blindside hits to the head will be penalized and ejected from games under a proposal presented by all 30 of the league's general managers.
After rushing a new rule into the books in March that outlawed blows to the head of unsuspecting players, the general managers unanimously decided Wednesday to recommend that offenders be given a 5-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
The rule prohibits "lateral, back-pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact."
Originally, players who delivered such previously allowable hits with their shoulders were merely subject to supplemental discipline from the NHL and not penalized during the game.
"We want in-game penalties," Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said. "It's one thing to suspend a player, but that has no impact on the game. It doesn't penalize the team for that game."
The original plan in March was to discuss the institution of in-game penalties, as well. The GMs took that first step Wednesday in their annual meetings at the Stanley Cup finals. Their recommendation will now need to pass through the league's competition committee before it is presented to the board of governors for a final vote. That group already approved the original ban.
"The board was pretty supportive when we explained it to them," said Colin Campbell, the NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations. "This is one of those rules that when you change it midseason, it's a rule that needed a 30-0 vote midseason, and it got it."
If the new punishments are approved by the board, they will become league policy.
Florida forward David Booth missed 45 games this season after getting hit by Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards — a play that was legal at the time, but is no longer permitted. An unpunished blindside hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke against Boston's Marc Savard on March 7 also increased pressure to enact a new rule. Savard sustained a concussion that will likely sideline him for at least the rest of the regular season.
The GM meetings that first prompted action began the day after Savard was hit.
Much of the discussion Wednesday was what the on-ice penalty should be and how referees should go about making the calls.
The major penalty and game misconduct are consistent with the punishment for players who hit an opponent from behind.
"It's without question the right decision," New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. "If the official sees something and is 100 percent sure that it's something we're trying to take out of the game, then it's something that should be implemented immediately. That's what this will do."
In other issues Wednesday, the GMs also discussed the increasing number of games decided in a shootout — the tiebreaker adopted for the 2005-06 season after the NHL lockout.
In the first season of shootouts, 51.6 percent of overtime games went to a shootout, the lowest number in the five seasons of the tiebreaker. The percentage rose to a record-high 61.1 last season.
"When we approved the shootout, we never thought we'd get this many shootouts," Burke said. "I know our fans like it, but it's a skill competition and it decides games. I think more games are being decided by shootouts than any of us envisioned when we voted for the rule.
"I don't know what the answer is to that. Longer overtime? If we play part of the overtime 4-on-4 do we then go to 3-on-3? I think a disproportionate or unreasonable number of games are being decided by the shootout."
Also Wednesday, Don Maloney of the Phoenix Coyotes was chosen as the league's top general manager this season. Maloney is the first winner of the award Burke said he first proposed to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in 1993.
Voting was conducted after the season among the league's 30 GMs and a panel of NHL executives, and print and broadcast media. Maloney edged out fellow finalists George McPhee of the Washington Capitals and David Poile of the Nashville Predators.
"Our group should be acknowledged at the league level for excellence," Burke said. "It's wonderful that Donnie Maloney won it. He did a great job this year under very difficult circumstances, resurrected a franchise. I think it's very fitting. It's who I voted for."
The Coyotes endured a difficult season in which the team's future in Arizona was unsettled. Phoenix, under new coach Dave Tippett — who was hired by Maloney — set franchise records with 50 wins and 107 points and made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
"It's humbling," Maloney said of the award. "I am certainly honored. I think it's more of a reflection of the organizational success starting with the great job our coaching staff did."