- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Whether it was a lengthy suspension levied against Donald Brashear or a crushing blow by Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall on Chicago’s Martin Havlat, hits to the head have been a hot topic of discussion during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Some people in the hockey community might be in favor of stricter enforcement on the matter, but when the league’s general managers met Tuesday in Pittsburgh, they decided a “no tolerance” policy on contact to the head like the one instituted by the Ontario Hockey League is not something they’re interested in at this point in time.

“The sentiment among the group was that we should leave it as is,” Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “We want contact in the game, and we want great hits in the game. From time to time, someone will go over the line, and there will be consequences.”

Added Montreal GM Bob Gainey: “We need to work with diminishing injury and improving the safety of the players but not take away the robust physical play that attracts all of us to the game.”

The OHL’s rules on contact to the head are simple: Any contact is a penalty, and the degree of intent decided by the officials determines whether it’s a minor, major or game misconduct. NHL Players’ Association director Paul Kelly has voiced support for the NHL enacting something similar, but this is the second time this year the league’s general managers have discussed and decided against it.

Several GMs said after the meeting there was little momentum in the room in support of some variation of an OHL-style ban on hits to the head.

“We’re trying to look a little more analytically at certain body contact and certain kinds of contact that can create injury and providing the players with a little more safety and maybe a little more education,” Gainey said. “Maybe having them [be] aware like we’re aware in our city which intersections have a lot of auto accidents and when you get there you have to be on guard. There are certain places on the ice that provide the players with that risk, and we can try to increase the players’ awareness in those areas.”

One way for the NHL to police hits to the head is via fines and suspensions, but the league has taken plenty of criticism this postseason for perceived inconsistencies in judgment. The Caps were not happy that Brashear was tagged with a six-game suspension, five of which were for an open-ice hit to the head on Blair Betts during the first round.

“We think the league does everything it can to be fair. We trust [senior vice president] Colin Campbell’s judgment,” McPhee said. “We didn’t agree with that suspension, and it seemed unfair, but we’re not going to agree every time. That one seemed to be excessive, and it is unfortunate. The league isn’t perfect, and they’re not going to get every [judgment] right.”

The other Hedman

Five of the top prospects for the upcoming NHL draft were here Tuesday to meet players from both teams, meet with the media and watch Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Among them was Swedish defenseman Viktor Hedman, who is expected to be picked either first or second later this month in Montreal.

Hedman, who stands 6-foot-7 and in considered one of the top prospects at his position in years, is the “little” brother of Oscar Hedman, a fifth-round pick in 2004 by the Caps. The Hedman brothers played together for Swedish power Modo before Oscar signed with Frolunda before this past season.

The elder Hedman is listed at 6 feet and 207 pounds and had five goals and 11 points in 55 games for Frolunda this year.

“He’s a great player, and he’s still eligible,” Viktor Hedman said. “I really think he could be in the NHL in the next few years, but it is hard to say right now. I hope he keeps developing his game, and I see him as an NHL player in two years.”

Added McPhee: “We get reports on him all the time. He’s sort of the on the bubble right now, and if he can’t be one of those top players in your lineup, then you can fill those roles with younger players.”

Molinari honored

Dave Molinari, who has covered the Pittsburgh Penguins since the summer of 1983, was announced Tuesday as the 2009 Elmer Ferguson award winner by the Hockey Hall of Fame. Molinari was close friends with Dave Fay, the longtime Capitals beat writer for The Washington Times who won the award in 2007.

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