NHL Concussion Thoughts

29 Dec

Recently there has been a spike in awareness and number of concussions in the National Hockey League.  Last year we began compiling the injuries in our database to see where the sport stands (we also do NFL, NCAA football, and Aussie Rules Football).  When Sidney Crosby sustained his initial concussion in the Winter Classic last year it seemed that NHL has begun to take notice.

It was refreshing to see The Star of the NHL deal with the brain injury with some transparency, although he endured some criticism what Crosby did was set into motion the awareness of concussions.  Last season prior to the new year it was very difficult to find actual listed concussions; they were veiled in “upper body” or “undisclosed” listings.  In some cases the injury was improperly reported as a neck or shoulder injury; a sign that the concussion was either a) not understood (unlikely) or b) needed to be hidden.

Before you read on it is important to understand the position of the blog and this author about concussions.

Concussions, brain injuries, are an inherent part of collision sports.  There is very little in the way of equipment that can prevent concussions, the only way to impact a positive change (see decrease) is to address the culture and mechanics of sports.  This does not mean that professional sports should be outlawed, rather subtly changed to protect those that play, not only for the immediate time, but for the long-term health of the athletes.  With this; the professional level of sports set the example for the millions of adolescent athletes that choose to play collision sports.  What is done at the highest level trickles down, therefore there is a responsibility of the professional sports and athletes to handle the injury correctly.  Finally the actual injury of concussion is not the “elephant in the room” it is how the brain injury is managed from the beginning that we can make the most profound impact.

As we approach the first anniversary of the Crosby injury I have some thoughts I would like to share with you the reader:

Increased Disclosure of the Injury:

At this point last year we found 43 concussions, with a majority of those being of the “undisclosed” or “upper body” listings.  I blasted the NHL and Gary Bettman for not providing a full picture of this issue.  I am not sure it was just “some blogger” that provided the impetus, however the reports are better.  Of the 64 we have found this year (official update coming soon), only eight were “hidden”; making the tracking of the injury somewhat easier.

Increased Time Recovering:

It is assumed that it started with Sidney Crosby and his management, but overlooked was the tremendous job that the medical staff of the Colorado Avalanche did last season.  Not only did the Avs lead the way in reported concussions (10) last season, their players were out longer than most others while dealing with concussions.  Now teams are quick to place players on the injured reserve and truncate their seasons if warranted.  This is a key point that should not be overlooked.

Increased Media Exposure:

The Globe and Mail started early last year reporting on the injury and the concussion crisis in the national sport of Canada.  It was only slightly ahead of the New York Times and their hockey coverage; now, as the culture is beginning to change many more hockey outlets are dealing with the issue.  Stu Hackel has been wonderful in covering this issue including using this blog as a reference.  Perhaps one of the better print interviews I have done was in Russia; you may not be able to read Russian so here is the Q&A in English;

Do you think that wave of concussions to star players, such as Crosby, Pronger, Giroux, Skinner, is a trend or just a coincidence?
THIS APPEARS TO BE A TREND, AS THERE ARE MORE CONCUSSIONS THERE WILL BE MORE “STARS” BEING AFFECTED BY THIS INJURY.  THE LACK OF RESPECT FOR THE “STARS” (UNLIKE GRETZKY AND MARIO’S TIME) IS EVIDENT NOW-A-DAYS.
What in your opinion NHL should do now – take action or wait and see?
THE NHL SHOULD TAKE ACTION ON THIS MATTER.  THERE SHOULD BE A SWIFT ADJUSTMENT TO THE RULE BOOK AND ADDRESSING THE LACK OF RESPECT BY THE PLAYERS.  BRENDEN SHANAHAN IS DOING A GOOD JOB AT SCRATCHING THE SURFACE.  THE ULTIMATE ISSUE IS THE FACT THAT PLAYERS ARE BIGGER, FASTER AND STRONGER THEN BEFORE.
What would you like to see from the league?
REMOVAL OF ALL HEAD CONTACT, PERIOD.  PLAYERS NEED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR BODIES, AND EQUIPMENT.  INTERNATIONAL HOCKEY FOLLOW IIHF RULES, WHICH DO NOT ALLOW FOR HEAD CONTACT.  THE LEAGUE SHOULD ALSO DECREASE THE PADDING/ARMOUR OF THE SHOULDERS.  POSSIBLY LOOK INTO GOING TO 4-ON-4 HOCKEY AT ALL TIMES.  THE RINK IS SO CROWED NOW THERE IS ALWAYS SOMEONE GETTING HIT.  OPENING UP THE ICE MAY MAKE THE SPEED FASTER, BUT IT WILL ALSO ALLOW FOR MORE “ESCAPE” ROUTES FOR PLAYERS.
Do you think NHL moves in the right direction?
GENERALLY YES, BUT SLOWER THAN IT NEEDS TO BE.  THERE IS TOO MUCH “MACHISMO” OF OLD PLAYERS AND COMMENTATORS LIKE DON CHEERY THAT SLOW DOWN THE LEAGUE.  RATHER THAN BEING REACTIVE THE NHL SHOULD BE PROACTIVE. 
Hockey is a fast-paced and physical game. Do you think we’ve come to the point when game needs to be changed dramatically, become slower, and less physical just to give players more security?
UNFORTUNATELY YES.  THE RINKS WERE NOT MADE FOR 6’6″ 270LB. MEN THAT SKATE AT BREAK NECK SPEED.  THE GAME WAS NOT DEVELOPED WITH PUCKS FLYING AT 100MPH, THUS INCREASING THE NEED FOR PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT.  IT IS A GREAT SPORT, AND TO KEEP IT AROUND THERE WILL HAVE TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE CHANGES.

Conclusion:

As of today I think the NHL is doing a decent job, the only reason I feel this way is because their hand has been forced by the increase of “stars” being affected by concussions.  Although the silence from the top of the league in setting standards and addressing the real issue of management is deafening.  Hockey is a wonderful sport I would like it to be played for many years.  The NHL is in the strange position of following lower levels of the sport: Hockey Canada, IIHF, various junior leagues to address the issue of concussions.

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One Response to “NHL Concussion Thoughts”

  1. Nicole Deni January 4, 2012 at 13:02 #

    Let’s not forget the hit that Savard took from Matt Cooke that could very well have ended his career. I just read a story out of MN about a high school hockey player now paralized by a check into the boards. It’s a serious problem that I would like to see more professional players be more open about. I would like to see Crosby, Savard, or Pronger make an effort to talk about their personal expieriance with the injury and what has worked for them to get through it. They have a voice and are respected players in the NHL and they should be working towards helping other nonprofessional athletes get through this difficult injury instead of staying silent.

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