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Head shots on minds as NHL general managers meet

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - Head shots remained on the minds of NHL general managers on Tuesday even though they were not on the opening agenda of a two-day hockey think tank.

Blows to the head are expected to dominate meetings on Wednesday as general managers try to find a way to reduce the number of devastating hits that have plagued the early season, without watering down the physical component of the game.

"It is on the agenda, we just didn't get there today," Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey told reporters. "Everyone will get an opportunity to give their ideas.

"There is a lot of contact in the game and those who play the game enjoy that. It's part of the attraction.

"But as the sport changes and evolves, the strength of the players, the size of the players, the speed of the players, the equipment that is used, some of the long accepted traditions may need to be looked at."

New rules were brought in following the 2005 lockout that were designed to speed up the game and make it more attractive. But they have had an ugly side affect with free-wheeling players turning themselves into high-speed battering rams.

The result has been a number of disturbing hits to the head forcing several top players onto the sidelines with concussions.

"The players are bigger, they're faster, and the game is so much quicker and everything is so much harder," said Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford.

"Everything we have is to better the game, which it has, but it also puts players in a position that they can get hurt more.

"My point always is sometime someone is going to get really hurt and that's when it will come to a head.

"I just hope we don't wait that long."

Most general managers, however expressed reluctance to reduce the physical element of the sport which they feel makes it unique and a large part of the game's appeal.

"We don't want an automatic penalty for a contact to the head," said Toronto general manager Brian Burke. "A legal check that includes contact to the head that is a penalty in some leagues we don't want that.

"It will take hitting out of the game completely.

"A couple of the hits this year trouble me and we'll

talk about them tomorrow."

One controversial item on the agenda that was addressed was a proposal to eliminate the trapezoid area behind the net where goaltenders are not allowed to handle the puck.

Some general managers felt that if netminders were allowed to handle the puck defencemen would not be as vulnerable to hits along the back boards.

"It was discussed and it will stay in place," said Burke. "We had originally approved a rule where the goalie couldn't handle the puck behind the goal line at all.

"The game was turning into a tennis match, you dump it in, the goalie would throw it out."

(Editing by Julian Linden)