NHL General Managers Deal First with Concussions

In Boca Raton at the NHL General Manager's meeting, today's topic is concussions. Despite the lovely weather, the talk is anything but relaxed. Be it accidental, incidental, illegal, or legal, the question is two-fold: how concussions are caused, and what to do about it. Though the official dialogue unfolds in the aftermath of the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty, the truth is that the discussion surrounding concussion has been long been under the NHL radar.

The morning's agenda included a presentation of the NHL Concussion Study, a comparison of the concussions that have occurred over the past two years (through March 1), emphasizing the hockey perspective as key in deciphering and deciding how to go forward. A central feature of the data is the evaluation of Rule 48 (blindside hits to the head) in determining how effective the rule has been in aiding player safety.

From the Concussion Study, the data dissects the 80 concussions suffered this year (the 2010-11 season, through March 1) in terms how how they were received.

  • Accidental, 26%. This includes hits from teammates, pucks, tripping, and most significantly, inadvertent collisions between opponents. Notably, the accidental concussion is what Sidney Crosby suffered during the Winter Classic. At 26% for 2010-11, this number has doubled from accidental hits suffered in 2009-10.
  • Fighting, 8%.
  • Legal, 44%. This includes hits to the body and hits to the head that do not warrant penalties.
  • Illegal, 17%. Primarily blindside hits to the head, but also includes other prohibited hits to the head and body. Clearly, illegal hits are distinguished from legal hits in that the are punishable, either by penalty or supplemental discipline.

(You'll note too, that the concussion percentages only add up to 95%; four concussions that occurred this season were unaccounted for, because they were discovered after the fact and were not caught on video.)

While many are asking for an easy answer to fix the problem, Commissioner Gary Bettman underscored the analysis with one sentiment: "There's no one silver bullet to what's causing concussions."

Understanding the complexity, the league is doing what it can to find a solution to the myriad of problems surrounding the prevalence of concussions.

"This is a fast, physical game, and as a result you're always going to have some injuries," Bettman to the media this morning, "but we want to do everything we can to minimize them."

Over the next couple of days, expect the conversation to divide over a number of solutions. In his meda address, Bettman offered five different areas, which includes evaluating player equipment and rink safety (in light of the Chara hit).

Perhaps most significantly, the new attention to concussions also includes a modified concussion protocol that will require the off-ice evaluation of a player by a team physician to determine if a concussion has been suffered.

Finally, an ongoing committee has been appointed in order to evaluate concussions going forward, composed of Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, and Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. All are hall of fame eligible players, who have played the game in the recent past..

Yzerman spoke briefly about the change in the game since his time as a player. "It's changed dramatically, even in the past two seasons. From diagnosis to treatment, everything has changed."

But the biggest change is, according to Yzerman, is the change in the players themselves. "Ultimately, players are better athletes. They're faster, they're bigger, they're stronger. That's just the evolution of the game."

Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier, who was positive despite the recent Chara-Pacioretty hit, said that overall,
there is agreement that an adjustment needs to be made. "There is a will to make the game safer."

As the meetings continue through Wednesday, we'll look forward to seeing where the talks go.