"Right now, you can blindside a guy -- you can see a player coming through the center of the neutral zone looking away to catch or receive a pass and you can drop your shoulder right into his head and it's a perfectly legal and appropriate hit," now former NHLPA head Paul Kelly said at those meetings. "We don't think that is correct. We think that is a serious safety issue."
League disciplinarian Colin Campbell, who usually makes the suspension decisions but didn't today because his son plays for the Panthers, disagrees with Kelly and echoes the sentiments of the Stevens' era, the type of game the Richards plays.
"I believe there is a responsibility by the player getting hit by a legal check that he has to have his head up and avoid it," Campbell said. "In my day, if you got hit that way, legally by a player, your teammates would wonder what was going on, your coach would look at you and maybe not say anything, but your dad for sure when you got home would give you crap for having your head down. I'm certainly concerned about player safety, but I'm more concerned about taking a play out of the game that is a good, physical part of the game."
According to the rules at hand right now in this league, this is a legal hit. It's part of the game. If that changes in the future, if Campbell's day becomes the distant past, then so be it. But for now, Booth and anybody else that takes the ice against Mike Richards should keep their head on a swivel.
That's how we reacted to the Mike Richards hit on David Booth back in October. If that hit were to happen this evening against the Minnesota Wild at the Wachovia Center, it would be illegal and subject to suspension. Colin Campbell's day has officially become the distant past.
The NHLPA today agreed to the rule change already approved by the NHL Board of Governors that band any blind-side hit where the head it targeted. While we defended the Richards hit here back in October with the justification that it hadn't broken any rules, it's hard to argue that the rule change in effect today isn't something that's good for the game.
There is an argument to be made -- one that we contributed to back in October -- that the player getting hit bares a certain level of responsibility for putting themselves in a vulnerable position. I believe that Booth put himself in a vulnerable position back in October by admiring his pass. But ultimately, it's still good for Richards to hold up in that situation, and the rule really gets to the core of the more frequent occurrence: flat out dirty plays by guys like Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.
It doesn't completely ban these hits as 'hockey plays'. As long as they aren't from the side or from behind, they're still legal, meaning that you can still make someone pay when they coast through the neutral zone with the puck and their head down. This is something that should not be removed from the game.
But injury for no reason is something that should be removed at all costs, and the rule change today goes a long way toward doing that.