NHL Targets Player Safety With 2019-20 Rule Changes

With a new hockey season kicking off soon and preseason games already underway, NHL fans are gearing up for another great year. This time around, there are a new set of rules to learn in order to stay on top of the game, a few of which are targeted to player safety. Back in June, the league announced their new additions to the rule book that go into effect this season.

Rules targeting player safety

With all of the rule changes that the NFL has been introducing in recent years regarding player safety, we couldn’t help but wonder why hockey wasn’t being proactive in that regard, as well. Fighting has always been a part of hockey, practically since its inception, and injuries are nothing new on the ice. While fighting has yet to be removed, there are a few rule book updates concerning safety.


Starting this year, players whose helmets come off during play must either put it back on immediately or leave the ice if it flies away from them and they can’t reach it. Failure to comply with this rule will result in a minor penalty.

George Parros, NHL senior vice president of player safety, told NHL.com that the NHL was the only professional league in the world that didn’t already have a rule concerning helmets coming off during play. He said that many general managers agreed that a rule like this would likely be put into place once a player got injured because of losing their helmet, so it made sense to be proactive and add the rule before an injury could happen.

The only exception to this rule is if the player is in the middle of a play that they could easily finish. The player is allowed to finish the play, then follow-up with either leaving the ice or immediately putting the helmet back on. Players who intentionally knock off the helmet of another player will be charged with a minor penalty for roughing.

Referees reviewing high-sticking

This year, referees have the ability to review high-stick penalties to determine if the stick which caused an injury was accurately identified as the stick belonging to the player who was penalized. This reviewing ability is to be used at the discretion of the referees and is not mandatory.

The purpose of this new rule is due to the confusion that can be caused when multiple players are in the area when a high-sticking double-minor penalty occurs.

Refs will have the ability to review other major and match penalties, as well. It’s important to note that these reviewing changes come after the last playoffs, where the league received criticism about many missed penalty calls by the referees. This is likely an attempt to avoid issues like that in the future.

Department of Player Safety

Back in 2011, under the direction of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the league created the Department of Player Safety to oversee supplemental disciplinary measures for on-ice penalties. The idea behind the department quickly developed from simply handing out more penalties to being proactive.

They wanted to both give players a more in-depth education about what is and isn’t allowed on the ice and also pay extra attention to repeat offenders whom the league penalized regularly.

Over the past decade, the department has also given extra focus to their concussion protocols, first with the development of the “quiet room,” where players are sent to be seen by a physician after a hard hit to the head, and later with the additions of “spotters” who keep an eye on the ice. They have the ability to remove players they suspect of showing concussion symptoms.