Gary Bettman recently introduced a "5-point plan" to help with the number of concussions in the NHL. Concussions are the hot-button issue across the world of sports as some of the biggest stars in the NHL, NFL and MLB have all missed significant time due to concussions or post-concussion problems. With the recent severe concussion that Max Pacioretty suffered after a Zdeno Chara hit, the NHL has been shoved into the spotlight yet again for the brutality of on-ice incidents.
Despite all of the injuries sustained, the NHL has been leading the way in concussion safety and introduced a ban on certain types of headshots in an effort to further lower the number of concussions. With Bettman's new 5-point plan, is the NHL doing enough or are there still certain protocols or rules that need to be introduced?
We'll start with the first point on the list, something that we've heard Mickey Redmond talk about numerous times on FS-D broadcasts:
-- Brendan Shanahan has been directed to focus on equipment, in conjunction with the Players' Association, in an effort to reduce the size of the equipment without reducing its protectiveness but also without compromising the safety of an opponent who is contacted by that equipment.
You look at the size of the equipment for some players and it's ridiculous. When we took the tour of Joe Louis Arena last Thursday, there was a picture on the wall of Chris Chelios after the 2001-2002 Stanley Cup win, jersey off but still in his pads. His shoulder pads are tiny when compared to that of Mike Ribeiro. This might be a personal preference thing for each player, but establishing an upper size limit smaller than the current one is a must.
There is of course the safety question that is involved because of how physical the hitting game is and pucks flying around the ice, but is it necessary to have pads that big? The short answer is no and I think the equipment size will change relatively soon. It seems to me that the bigger the equipment, the more reckless the style of play is and although this is probably a generalization, I know that if I were a player I'd feel more "invincible" with bigger pads.
Follow the jump for the rest of the points from Bettman's plan and some more thoughts on the concussion issue as it is being addressed at the GM meetings.
-- The NHL Protocol for Concussion Evaluation and Management has been revised in three areas: 1) Mandatory removal from play if a player reports any listed symptoms or shows any listed signs (loss of consciousness ... Motor incoordination/balance problems ... Slow to get up following a hit to the head ... blank or vacant look ... Disorientation (unsure where he is) ... Clutching the head after a hit ... Visible facial injury in coombination with any of the above). 2) Examination by the team physician (as opposed to the athletic trainer) in a quiet place free from distraction. 3) Team physician is to use 'an acute evaluation tool' such as the NHL SCAT 2 [SCAT stands for Sports Concussion Assessment Tool] as opposed to a quick rinkside assessment.
This is the one you look at and think "well, I had hoped they were already doing this" but with the competitive nature of athletes, you can bet there have been players over the past few years that have wiggled their way past this. It's good to see this get bumped up to an even more serious level and it should prevent any injuries that come about from successive hits. Anything the team doctors can do to work with players in the early stages of a concussion is the best step towards proper recovery.
-- The Board will be approached to elevate the standard in which a Club and its Coach can be held accountable if it has a number of 'repeat offenders' with regard to Supplementary Discipline.
Finally. One of the most aggravating things is to watch a player continue a reckless style of play that is likely to injure someone, yet the coaches and teams do not get punished for continually putting the guy out there. I suppose it's hard to really change the style of play for someone, but to some degree coaches are responsible for the conduct of their guys on the ice. The only question I have is to what they well be held accountable for? Will coaches be fined/suspended? Same for general managers?
-- In the continuing pursuit of the ultimate in player safety with regard to the rink environment, a safety engineering firm will be used to evaluate all 30 arenas and determine what changes, if any, can and should be made to to enhance the safety of the environment. For the 2011-12 season, the teams that have seamless glass behind the nets, on the sides, or surrounding the entire rink will be directed to change to plexiglass.
Seemingly directly related to the Pacioretty hit, this topic has been in talks for a long time. This seems to be one of the toughest things to address because the rink (and particularly the stanchions at the benches) will always be a dangerous place, it's just the way the game is. I mean, the boards are one of the biggest causes of injuries in the league but those aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
The stanchions are unforgiving in their current design, but I'm not 100% sure any re-design would make them any safer. A lot of the suggestions seem to angle the glass back, but it seems to me like it still doesn't solve the problem because you still have a point where the glass has to come back to the boards and you can still have a player get injured at that point. I think that is something that is more up to the control of the players than anything else, they have to make the conscious decision to ease up when they get to that part of the ice.
-- A 'blue-ribbon' committee of Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk -- all players who competed under the standard of rules enforcement that has been in place since 2005 -- to examine topics relevant to the issue.
Eh...I don't really have anything to add. Sounds good.
Head injuries are a brutal nightmare for players to deal with as the effects can subside quickly or linger for months. By taking a serious approach to the issue, the NHL is not only looking out for the well being of its players, but also protecting its image and financial interests. With the NFL lockout and a potential NBA lockout, it seems to me like the NHL is doing everything within its power to pull together an image that the health of the players is at the top of its priorities.
So, to answer the question asked in the title, I say that for now they are doing enough. It is a very tight rope to walk between altering the game that we all know and love and protecting the players at the same time. As fans, we like the violence, whether or not we admit it openly, we do. It's only when there is an injury like Pacioretty's or Savard's or even Havlat's that we are outraged. The steps the NHL is taking for the time being seem to be adequate in my book. There's not too much in these changes that will detract from the game itself, but rather adjustments to the equipment involved as well as introducing necessary medical precautions to protect the health of players.
What do you think of this new 5-point plan?