Lost amid the big news of the day - the official transfer of the former Atlanta Thrashers to the new Winnipeg ownership group - was the fact that the NHL's board of governors also ratified rule changes that theoretically should make the game safer next year.
The governors approved changes to two rules, one relating to boarding (Rule 41) and the other, the infamous headshot rule (48). The changes had previously been vetted by the NHL's general managers and the competition committee.
The key to the new boarding rule is that a player delivering a check that causes the victim to hit or impact the boards violently will now be required to "avoid or minimize" the contact if his opponent is deemed to be defenceless on the play. Referees have also been given a fair of amount of latitude, and the discretion to not call a penalty if the recipient of the contact placed himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the collision or if the check was unavoidable. That'll be interesting - to see how theory translates into practical calls on the ice.
The changes to the boarding rule also include a specific reference to icing - what TV commentator Don Cherry has been going on about for years. From now on, "any unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an obvious icing or off-side play which results in that player hitting or impacting the boards is "boarding" and must be penalized as such. In other instances where there is no contact with the boards, it should be treated as charging."
As for the head-shot rule, the wording was changed slightly to eliminate the qualifying terms "lateral or blind side" hit to the head.
Officially, the rule now reads: "A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was unavoidable, can be considered."