NHL Making Mockery of Concussions in Playoffs

You know how I feel about hockey, I love it; and playoff hockey is even more exciting.  The best sporting event I have ever attended was Game 6 of the Detroit/Colorado Series in 1997, there is just something about playoff hockey.  There is also one thing that is becoming more evident about playoff hockey; complete lack of consistency regarding player safety, in particular concussions.

On Friday Ryan Lambert wrote a very poignant article about the “concussion culture” and why it “sucks”.  He basically took to task the NHL and their scaling back of awareness and proper management of the concussion;

We take concussions very seriously,” says the National Hockey League.

“Oh really? That’s great,” says the sports fan. “How?”

“Umm well you see…” replies the NHL, trailing off and looking at the tops of its feet.

The latest evidence of the league paying all the necessary lip service to the necessity for proper handling of concussions, but without doing anything to mandate that its clubs or players follow those protocols, comes to us from hardscrabble Philadelphia.

It’s not only Philadelphia it is HAS already happened in Toronto, with Colby Armstrong,  and was admonished by his General Manger for trying to pull such a stunt.  I wrote about this in Chill Magazine in the most recent interview;

Even medical technology like scans and imaging cannot detect the issue. This puts the onus on the concussed individual to somehow quantify what is going on in his or her head, creating the first issue with the stigma of concussions – self-reporting. Take Colby Armstrong of the Toronto Maple Leafs, for example. A high-profile player who did not want to be saddled with the injury, Armstrong actually hid the symptoms from both teammates and team doctors. He battled through blurred vision and vomiting for two full days before he eventually surrendered to the brain injury and was placed on injured reserve.

In reading the Lambert article appearing in Puck Daddy of Yahoo! Sports I came to find out what I had only passively noticed as a fan, the disappearance of the “quiet room”;

There is no Quiet Room in the NHL today, no mandated time period for assessment after a potential head injury. There is a protocol, but one that falls short of what was announced a year ago. The result has seen plenty of players — from stars like Kris Letang, Daniel Sedin and Brent Seabrook, to everyday pluggers like Edmonton’s Theo Peckham — going back out a few dangerous shifts after a head shot, before succumbing to the reality that, yes, they are concussed.[…]

“We’ve seen relatively few instances this year where players exhibit on-ice signs of concussion and are not evaluated as per the protocol, but there are often extenuating circumstances that explain why application of the protocol may not be appropriate in a situation that otherwise seems to warrant it.”

On-ice, indeed.

That is where Peckham’s face lay, for several seconds in an apparent state of unconsciousness, in a recent game at Columbus. He would be assessed by the Oilers’ training staff and allowed to play five more shifts before calling it a night.

Peckham has not played since.

Daniel Sedin, for whom play stopped when he remained down on the ice after taking an elbow from Duncan Keith, neither missed a shift nor left the bench. Sedin was utilized for another double-shift (1:26) of power-play time before leaving the game for good.

Sedin has not played since and Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said Thursday — eight days after the original elbow — that he is “hopeful” Sedin will be ready to return when the playoffs begin on Apr. 11. Keith was suspended for five games.

Letang returned to score the overtime winner on Nov. 26 in Montreal after being concussed by Pacioretty. He then left the Penguins lineup for nearly two months with a concussion, returning on Jan. 19.

No “quiet room” and apparently no emphasis on hits to the head in the playoffs.  Its not only an observation of mine, one that I have said many time, most recently last week when Shea Weber was slapped on the wrist for using an opponents head as a basketball on the glass.  It is also an opinion of Josh Janet of GCOBB.com (Phillysports247.com);

In other words, a ton of people watched Neal attempt to brain two previously concussed players.[…]

At the other end of the ice, the Flyers’ coaching staff completely failed in their reaction to the hits on Schenn, Couturier and Giroux.

Janet focused on the underlying problems focused in Lambert’s article by chronicling the incidents that occurred;

Brayden Schenn was hit in the head at the 14:15 mark of the first period. He returned to the ice at the 16:15 mark, or two minutes later.

Sean Couturier was down on the ice after being hit with a considerable force from Neal at the 14:40 mark of the third period. He returned to the ice at the 16:19 mark, or one minute and thirty-nine seconds later.

Claude Giroux was hit by Neal at the 15:18 mark of the third period. He did not return.

Each of these players had missed time this season from a head injury, and yet two of them were thrown right back onto the ice. What happened to going to the “Quiet Room” for evaluation? What happened to player safety?

The NHL is making a complete mockery of concussion and player safety as the second season skates on.  Even Barry Petchesky chimed in on the seemingly abomination in action during the playoffs;

Shea Weber shoves Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass: fine, no suspension. Byron Bitz hits Kyle Clifford from behind, sending him into the boards: two-game suspension. Matt Carkner sucker punches Brian Boyle, continuing to hit him after he goes down: one-game suspension. Carl Hagelin elbows Daniel Alfredsson in the head: three-game suspension.

Consistency is always elusive from the NHL’s department of player safety, but the playoffs are a whole new arbitrary world. Fans would love to believe Brendan Shanahan consults a Rosetta Stone of Discipline, but through five days of hockey and four punishable offenses, every touchstone we thought we had now seems worthless.

I completely echo the sentiments of Lambert in quoting Adam Burish (the article about the “quiet room”);

I don’t know how many times I or anyone else is going to have to write columns that more or less say, “The way the league and its teams and players view concussions is bad and dangerous,” but apparently, it’s a lot.

If by a lot you mean about every time I have written on the NHL the past two years then it’s a lot more than that…

3 thoughts on “NHL Making Mockery of Concussions in Playoffs

  1. Mike April 17, 2012 / 08:53

    It seems to me that a big part of the inconsistency comes from the fact that the NHL bases punishment on the apparent extent of the injury at the time the decision is made. This “It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt” mentality is pretty far from proactive. Players will keep taking these shots knowing there is a chance to do damage to the opponent and receive little to no penalty until the league starts basing penalties on the actions and not the outcomes.
    As far as the lack of proper screening or taking a player out of the game to get a good assessment, unfortunately, that seems to be a cultural thing that will take much longer to change. I bet if the league would take head injuries more seriously, the players and coaches would start doing so as well…

    • Dustin Fink April 17, 2012 / 09:15

      It is a very common observation… Punishment for results rather than intention… I guess if you intended to actually kill someone but failed you only get slapped on the wrist… Yeah, that’s how the world works… Wait if I attempted to take your money but instead of getting all your money I only got a hundo, slap on wrist…


      • BryanATC April 17, 2012 / 16:39

        I believe all it will take to change the NHL’s culture/response with concussions is the first lawsuit (and most likely the only way it will). Even though the NFL lawsuits are recent, the complaints from former players have been prevalent for years.

        As soon as former NHL players realize they can start suing for money because the proper precautions were not being taken, then you’ll see some actual change in how the league deals with concussions.

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