Boca Raton, Florida will be the site for the “Spring” meetings of the National Hockey League’s General Managers as they discuss League issues. I bet you cannot think of what might be the hottest topic. Last March the GM’s came up with Rule 48; penalizing players for blind side hits to the head. As USA Today and Kevin Allen note those types of hits are down, but the concussions are up;
“The concussions resulting from hits to the head, whether you categorize them as legal or illegal, are actually down this year,” said Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner. “For whatever reason, we are getting more concussions, either from accidental contacts or secondary contacts, by a player hitting his head on the ice, after being hit legally body to body or hitting his head against the boards.”
Concussions were going to be on the docket this week, however there seems to be more urgency since the Chara/Pacioretty incident in Montreal last week. The hit was ruled “part of the game” and as one of our writers, Nick Mercer put it, those hits are exactly the ones causing the concussions across the league.
What the GM’s need to understand is that there is a myriad of events occurring that are causing the numbers to rise. The most prominent is the simple fact that the players and teams are now LOOKING for this injury; in the past a “headache” was just that and the machoness of the professional hockey player took over. Another aspect of rising numbers is the education and technology in detecting the concussion; sideline evaluations and other tools have made it easier to quantify. Perhaps the biggest issue to try an resolve is the bigger/faster/stronger equation of the players and the game; more mass and speed equal more force.
A solid first step is to completely eliminate the blows to the head, whether on purpose or by accident. This would bring the NHL in line with International Hockey, and send a message to the youth about how the game should be played and players RESPECTED. The other issue is that “normal” contact and play can result in concussions, that will be much more difficult to police/control. This goes back to what some players have been saying and the point prior, respect. If players can rub out the player with the puck without slamming them in the boards with undue force, perhaps the players should do just that.
Finally the fighting issue, it is part of the game of hockey, the rule in place already have done a good job. Going forward as more players become aware of head injuries and their lasting effects less and less players will partake in this exercise of protection. If professional athletes want to stand skate-to-skate and beat each others brains in, that is their prerogative.
The NHL has been progressive with some issues and have tried with this as well, so make sure you know that. If I can suggest one thing; make teams REPORT all concussions/head injuries even when they coincide with other injuries. For example, if a player breaks his jaw or face the forces are generally great enough to induce a concussion, that should be listed. And the archaic listing of “upper body” and “undisclosed” should not be used for this injury. If the NHL and sports really want to know the actual incidence and problem it will have to start there.