Rule on NHL blindside hits to have biggest impact on new season

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - New rules designed to generate more goals and fewer concussions will be vigorously enforced when the National Hockey League opens a new season this week, league officials said on Tuesday.

When the season opens, Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard will not be on the ice as he battles post-concussion symptoms sustained in a blindside hit from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke that left the two-time All-Star sprawled on the ice last season.

Cooke's nasty hit went without punishment and it reignited the debate on whether to make such hits illegal.

With over 50,000 recorded hits last season, NHL general managers acknowledged the need to better protect players but were reluctant to water down the physical component of the game which they believe is key to the sport's popularity.

"We wanted to preserve hitting in the NHL and our managers felt that at this point we had to shift the responsibility from the player getting hit to the player delivering the hit," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations.

"The aspect that drove the managers to make this decision was that 50 percent of the concussions were delivered from the blindside.

"Hockey is a hitting game. Like saves, like goals its part of the game and our managers were very sensitive about removing hits all together."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)