Gary Bettman Source: Canadien Press

Concussions Up. But Not Why You Think.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman gave his “state of the union” address Saturday evening prior to the All-Star Skills Competition and relayed some interesting information concerning concussions and headshots in the NHL.  Since the recent concussion suffered by Sidney Crosby during the Winter Classic, the analysis of headshots has heated up as the league attempts to find a solution to the problem.  One that has created quite the headache around the league.

During the press conference given by Bettman one of the things he said was that while concussions are up over last season, they are “largely the result of accidental or inadvertant contact”. Huh?  When we look at two situations from last season I would ask that he try explaining that to David Booth, who was clobbered by Mike Richards and missed more than half the year.  Booth who this year doesn’t seem to be playing in the same traffic areas that he used to, seems to possibly have some measure of guarded play since that incident.  Have that same discussion with Marc Savard who was hit by Penguins pest Matt Cooke. Savard just suffered another concussion recently that could result in his early retirement.

Whether the hits are inadvertant or not, there’s obviously  a problem that needs to be addressed.  Now, I’m the first guy that loves the physicality of hockey.  And growing up in Chicago and watching the Blackhawks play many of their games against their “Chuck” Norris Division opponents, I witnessed all sorts of hitting.  The physicality of the sport is something that if taken away would dilute the product.  That would be like telling baseball players that you can’t steal bases anymore.  Not comparing a similar issue, but my point is an element of the game that can have an effect on the strategy of a team.  Doesn’t being physical in hockey wear teams down, making them not only tired, but more aware of players nearby as they go into the corner or traffic for the puck?

More and more of the NHL’s skilled players are suffering from these injuries and while the league is seemingly doing what they can to address it, the onus also falls to the players themselves.  From two points.  One, we all know and hear that you shouldn’t skate with your head down.  On the other hand, when you see a player lining up another player, like Richards on Booth and Cooke on Savard, there has to be some form of punishment handed out.  Illegal or not, and that’s not what this post is about, players on both sides of this need to be more aware of their surroundings. Those two hits are both very different examples, but also are barometers of how hard it is to determine what’s legal and what isn’t.  Nevermind the hit on Sidney Crosby from David Steckel, which will be debated for years.

While some feel that the NHL isn’t doing enough, Toronto Maple Leaf General Manager Brian Burke feels as though the situation has another opinion:

“I think the league has been a leader on concussions,” he said. “I think other leagues are looking to us for how we diagnose and treat concussions. It’s a serious issue in our game, it’s always going to be an issue in our game. I think there’s a rush to overreact on some of these things — concussions are not up dramatically”.

While I feel the study needs more time and more analysis, what’s the solution if any?  I’m not about to vote to “pansify” the game as Mike Milbury says and eliminate hitting.  It’s a physical game and it’s going to happen.  It’s an emotional game and there’s a time when a player knows that if he places a big hit, he could change the momentum for his team.  It’s a very fast sport and things can happen in a split second, as they often do.  The Richards and Cooke hits were not the result of a quick play.  The Steckel hit was however a perfect example of how fast this game moves.

The General Managers meet on March 30th to continue this discussion.  Prior to this season Rule 48 was added, giving officials the ability to call a minor or major for any “lateral, back pressure or blindside hit” where the principal point of contact is the head.  The powers at be need to figure out if this is enough.

Whether the hit is inadvertant or accidental compared to an illegal hit, the trend or should I say the bottom line is that concussions are rising.  That has to somehow slow down.

Thanks for reading and listening.  Your comments are always welcomed and appreciated.

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Tags: Concussions David Booth David Steckel Gary Bettman Marc Savard Matt Cooke Mike Richards Nhl Sidney Crosby

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