It's no secret that head shots and other dirty hits have been front-and-center in the NHL recently. A major part of the problem was Colin Campbell and his wildly inconsistent, virtually impossible to understand wheel of justice. Now he's out of that role and Brendan Shanahan will step in starting next season so there is at least reason to hope that things will improve. There are obviously no guarantees though, so here is my suggestion to clean up the game without having to fundamentally change anything.1) When a player is suspended, punish the organization not just the player. Levy stiff fines against the coach, the GM, and the owner. How many teams would be willing to employ a guy like Trevor Gillies if his boneheaded plays have serious financial ramifications for the front office personnel?
2) When a player is suspended, do not allow his team to replace him in the line-up. Treat the duration of the suspension as 1 long misconduct penalty - he counts as taking up a roster spot (and not as a healthy scratch) and as a result his team can only suit up 17 skaters during the suspension. Aaron Rome's suspension for his very late hit on Nathan Horton really isn't the end of the world for the Canucks - he's a depth defenseman, i.e. much less important to his team's success than the 1st line winger he took out, and his role can easily be filled by Keith Ballard or Christopher Tanev. Imagine how it would change the dynamic of the series if Vancouver were to actually be punished for the thuggish actions of one of its players by only being able to dress 5 defenseman (or 11 forwards if they chose to go that route) for the rest of the series.
There's been talk of expanding the scope of Rule 48 to ban ALL headshots, regardless of intent and regardless of whether or not the hit comes from the blind side. There's been talk of banning fighting. There has been talk of a lot of rule changes that may help eliminate a lot of these dirty plays but would fundamentally alter the way that the game is played. My suggestions, while admittedly a little radical, effect change by altering only the punishments. Currently a player mostly just hurts himself if he's suspended for a dirty hit (unless he's a top-6 forward or a top pairing defenseman, but Ovechkin and Pronger only make up a tiny fraction of suspensions each year) and that's just simply not enough to deter everyone; if these changes were enacted such a suspension would hurt the entire organization and would lead to players being forced by their teammates, coaches, and managers to either amend their style of play or face the reality of not being able to find employment in the NHL.