BOCA RATON, Fla. — NHL players minus their helmets, hair flapping in the breeze as they attempt to rejoin the action, could soon be a thing of the past.
The league’s general managers announced Tuesday at their meetings a new rule has been drafted that would force skaters to immediately head to the bench when they lose the protective gear.
A player is currently allowed to stay on the ice if his helmet becomes dislodged.
"When guys lose their helmets, they don’t change their game," said George Parros, the NHL’s director of player safety. "Guys are proud and tough. They want to go to those same areas."
Under the proposed change, which still has to go to the NHL/NHL Players’ Association competition committee and then the board of governors for final approval, a helmet-less skater would be assessed a two-minute penalty if he fails to immediately leave the ice.
"The last thing you want to see is someone injured on a play involving no helmet, especially when we granfathered in the visors," Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake said.
The International Ice Hockey Federation has the same rule the NHL is proposing, while the American Hockey League allows a player to remain on the ice if he’s able to put his helmet back on.
"I don’t see a reason why we’re waiting around for something to happen (injury-wise)," added Parros, a former NHL tough guy. "(If it did), we’d put the rule in place anyway."
The GMs are also in favour of making helmets mandatory in warmups, which would require approval from the NHLPA, but that’s not part of this potential rule change.
Some teams, including the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, request that players wear helmets before games, but other likes the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers will see nearly half their rosters go without.
The league showed managers a video compilation of injuries sustained by errant pucks and collisions in warmups, including the ugly gash Taylor Hall received when he was accidentally stepped on by skate and required 30 stitches in 2012.
"We had really good discussions," Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion said. "The league is doing the right thing to make sure our players are protected."
Meanwhile, managers appear ready to allow a team heading onto a power play to pick which side of the ice the ensuing offensive zone faceoff will occur immediately after a penalty is called.
Another change that seems likely to come out of these meetings that are minus the hot-button issues of years past — see head shots, goalie interference — is clocks being installed in the boards at all 31 arenas, much like the ones used at the league’s outdoor games. That change would only need board approval.
"Every building’s different," Blake said. "Sometimes you can see the clock up top, sometimes you can’t."
There was also talk about pace of play, including goalies unnecessarily freezing the puck on dump ins from outside the blue line, which would result in the offending team not being allowed to make a change.
"There’s obvious opportunities during the game where the puck is dumped in from the neutral zone or a long distance (and) the goalie has a chance to move it," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "The more flow we have in the game, the better."
DORION HIGH ON BRANNSTROM, REFLECTS ON BOUCHER
The Senators GM got an in-person look at defence prospect Erik Brannstrom — the centrepiece for Ottawa in the deal that sent star forward Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline — when he watched AHL Belleville host the Manitoba Moose on Friday.
"He’s relentless to go retrieve pucks, he makes plays, he really shoots the puck," said Dorion, who added it hasn’t been determined if the 19-year-old will get called up to the NHL’s last-place club this season. "We’re really excited about this player."
Dorion also touched on the firing of Guy Boucher, who was let go Friday despite seemingly getting a vote of confidence from his GM earlier in the week.
"He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met," Dorion said. "It was a very difficult, emotional decision for me to make. We’ve become very good friends over the last years.
"That’s a tough part about this job — sometimes you have to make decisions that you don’t really like to make."
Dorion said he hopes to have a new coach in place by the June’s NHL draft and reiterated that interim bench boss Marc Crawford will be among the candidates.
"There’s no sense of urgency," Dorion said. "We owe it to our fans to make the best possible coaching decision."
WILSON DISCUSSES DAHLEN
The Sharks GM got centre Gustav Nyquist from the Detroit Red Wings before the trade deadline, but is perhaps equally excited long-term about Jonathan Dahlen, snagged from the Vancouver Canucks for fellow forward prospect Linus Karlsson.
The 21-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 15 assists in 50 games for Vancouver’s AHL affiliate this season, but things seemed to sour between the player and the Canucks.
"We’ve liked him for a long time," Wilson said of Dahlen. "He might have needed a change of scenery. We think he’s really got a good upside."
Wilson believes the son of former Sharks winger Ulf Dahlen, whose career included 161 games with San Jose, is close to making a breakthrough.
"We don’t think he’s far away from being able to play in the NHL."