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Copyright 2013 The Columbus Dispatch
All Rights Reserved

The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
November 4, 2013 Monday
554 words
Blue Jackets; Bettman: Head hits on the way out;
Aaron Portzline, The Columbus Dispatch

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the wave of early-season "head hits" and ensuing suspensions is not because the league has seen an uptick in violence, but simply because it has changed the standard for what is deemed a punishable hit in the name of player safety.

Barely one month into the season, the league has suspended four players -- Vancouver's Alex Edler, Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta, the New York Islanders' Michael Grabner and Buffalo's John Scott -- a total of 22 games for targeting an opponent's head during a hit. Six other players have been suspended for other forms of dangerous hits.

Bettman, in Nationwide Arena on Saturday to award the 2015 All-Star Game to the Blue Jackets and the city of Columbus, said the league is undergoing a transformation since cracking down on hits that target the head a year ago.

"If you look at what we've been doing, particularly with player safety, and look at the rule changes, we're effectuating a change," Bettman said. "We've taken a hit out of the game that a couple of years ago was legal. It requires an adjustment, but (league vice president of player safety) Brendan Shanahan and the players' safety department have been very diligent in making sure we're adjusting.

"In the course of a season, we probably have 55,000 hits (across the league), give or take. We're talking about a relatively small percentage of the hits, a fraction of 1 percent. And when there are head hits, they're dealt with."

One week ago, the Blue Jackets feared that center Brandon Dubinsky would be suspended for his hit on Anaheim's Saku Koivu after his right shoulder collided with Koivu's jaw and sent him straight to the ice with a concussion.

After reviewing the hit, Shanahan ruled that Dubinsky was not targeting Koivu's head, that he landed a body-to-body check that involved incidental contact with Koivu's head.

The NHL gained national sports headlines for all the wrong reasons on Friday -- not for checks to the head, but for punches to the head.

During Washington's 7-0 rout of Philadelphia, the Flyers sparked a line brawl in the third period, during which goaltender Ray Emery skated the length of the ice, grabbed Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby against his will and began pummeling him.

Philadelphia forward Steve Downie was taken to a hospital after the game, and teammate Vincent Lecavalier suffered a facial injury.

Emery was not punished by the league, but Bettman said it might look at adding a rule to punish such actions in the future.

One suggestion is that a goaltender can't cross the far-end blue line to start a fracas, or he would face a fine or suspension. If goalies want to fight, they would have to meet in the neutral zone.

Bettman would first need the approval of the NHL's board of governors to change the rule book.

"We constantly monitor and look at the game," Bettman said. "There was no rule that was violated (by Emery) to elevate things to the level of a suspension. It's something we'll continue to discuss.

"I don't think anybody liked it, liked what it looked like. Fortunately, it's not something that happens very often. But I'm sure it's something we'll focus on, particularly with the general managers."



Opponent: vs. Ottawa Senators

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday / TV: Fox Sports Ohio

Radio: WBNS-FM (97.1)

Tom Mihalek / Associated Press Brayden Schenn of the Flyers, left, and Alexander Urbom of the Capitals squared off during a fight-filled game on Friday, but the officials were more concerned with separating the two goaltenders.
November 4, 2013

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