Saturday, October 8, 2011

Can Dion Phaneuf adjust to the crack down on head shots?

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was considered a blue chip hockey prospect because of his bone jarring open ice hits at the junior level. When he was growing up, he idolized Scott Stevens and the way he played the game. Who can forget those crushing hits on Eric Lindros that seriously shortened Lindros' career. Back then if you caught someone with their head down well it was their fault.

Unfortunately, if Stevens was playing in the NHL today, he would be a recurring guest to the offices of Brendan Shanahan. A similar fate could be Phaneuf’s if the referees maintain the strict standard of officiating that they showed during the preseason.

The NHL’s Rule 48 states that a “hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.” This broadened the rule to include all head shots and not just, as it had been previously, those from blindside or lateral hits.

If the league’s crackdown on headshots makes Phaneuf hesitant at all to throw a big check, it will remove one of the most feared elements of his game and subsequently make it even more difficult for him to regain his place among the elite defensemen in the NHL. This is no different then when defensemen had to adjust to the crackdown on obstruction in 2005. Bryan McCabe has been an all-star but was never as effective in his own end without his "can opener" move.

Let's hope Phaneuf does a better job adjusting.


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