Penguins players approve of a committee to study head hits

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The last time Arron Asham played against the New York Rangers was the last time he played. That was Feb. 1.

Asham is expected to return to the Penguins' lineup today when the Rangers come to Consol Energy Center, but he is not looking for payback for the hit that gave him a concussion.

He's not even sure whose elbow caught him along side his head, and he doesn't seem interested in investigating who it was.

"It wasn't dirty," Asham said Saturday after the Penguins practiced at Southpointe. "It was just a puck battle. It wasn't even by the boards. It was just battling for the puck on a forecheck and skating and that was it. It just happens. It's unfortunate that it does, but it's a physical game, and we all know coming in the risks."

You can mark Asham down among those who don't favor a blanket ban on shots to the head, something the Penguins' Ray Shero hoped would come out of last week's NHL general managers meetings in Florida as a means of reducing concussions.

The veteran forward known for his physical style doesn't believe that's feasible.

"When it's a direct hit to the head from a guy going out there to hurt someone with an elbow or a stick to the head, I think it should be dealt with firmly," Asham said. "If it's an open-ice hit and the guy has his head down and you make contact with his head, I think it shouldn't be penalized. A clean hit is a clean hit.

"We all have to go out there and protect ourselves and play the game smart. Some guys cut to the middle with their heads down and they get hit and it's a clean hit. I think it shouldn't be penalized. I think it's the guy with the puck's fault."

Although it's unclear where every general manager stood on the matter, it was apparent that Shero was in a decided minority in supporting a ban on all hits to the head. It seems, though, that more and more of those who watch hockey favor such a rule in the NHL.

Maclean's magazine -- the Canadian equivalent of Time -- commissioned a poll of Canadians earlier this month that showed that more than 80 percent of adults in that hockey-mad country believe the sport would be better off if hits to the head were outlawed.

"Whatever rule we come up with, it's got to err on the side of the players," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

"I think you're going to see some gradual changes. I don't know if it's now or down the road, but I think you're going to get to a point where there will be no shots to the head."

A year ago, the general managers helped enact Rule 48, which penalizes blindside and lateral hits to the head. Next season the NHL might adopt something that goes beyond Rule 48 but in all likelihood stops short of a ban on head hits.

Some players -- including Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who is out because of a concussion, and Penguins hard-hitting winger Matt Cooke, who has adjusted his game to adapt to Rule 48 -- have called for clarity from the NHL.

"I think the biggest concern out of all of this at the meetings was: Something needs to be done, but without it being a knee-jerk reaction," Cooke said. "It's something that they're aware of. They're working at it. I think it's a process."

The general managers and commissioner Gary Bettman have turned the matter over to a committee of four recently retired players who will be liaisons with the NHL Players Association and competition committee and come up with a presentation for the board of governors in June.

They are Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, Dallas general manager Joe Nieuwendyk and league front office employees Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake.

"I think it's a great thing," Cooke said. "Especially that group of players -- they weren't just perimeter players; they were very integral to the success of the game and the history of the game. I think they understand the game. They respect the game.

"They're going to do what's best, or at least recommend what's best, not only for the game, but also the players."

The Penguins' Deryk Engelland, a physical defenseman, is dismayed that marquee players such as Crosby have missed time because of concussions, but doesn't think all head shots can be legislated out of the NHL.

"The only thing they can do is suspend more," he said. "It's going to happen no matter what. They'll do what they can do, and we've got to try to limit the bad ones that you can prevent."

Engelland said it's possible to pull up at times when an opposing player is in a vulnerable position, but, like Asham, he puts some of the onus on the "hittees."

"The guy taking the hit has got to sometimes take a hit instead of turning or putting himself in that position where he makes a mistake and takes a head shot," Engelland said.

Asham agreed that hits to the head will happen in the course of games, and they might sometimes produce concussions, as he found out with the first one of his career.

"It wasn't fun at all," Asham said. "I didn't think anything could hurt this big melon, but it happened."

Today

• Game: Penguins vs. Rangers, Consol Energy Center.

• When: 12:30 p.m.

• TV: WPXI.



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