BOCA RATON, Fla. (KDKA/AP) – The NHL general managers began three days of meetings on Monday with head injuries and how to prevent concussions leading the agenda.
After Monday’s session, Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league will adopt a more rigorous protocol for examining players with possible concussions.
Hard hits and concussions are nothing new to the game of hockey. But, accidental concussions have doubled since last season and when the face of the NHL sustains a concussion, the league takes notice.
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby skated Monday for the first time since being sidelined in early January because of a concussion.
Concussions have left fans unhappy, and sponsor Air Canada threatened to withdraw its support recently.
As a result, general managers are thinking about applying the brakes.
One possible change includes a ban on head shots. However, Crosby noted such a rule might be difficult to implement.
“There are times when there is going to be accidental contact, and how do you deal with that?” he said. “If someone targets the head, then yeah, I think that should be banned. … It’s whether or not it’s intentional. Sometimes that’s tough to really know when you’re talking about a fast game like hockey.”
Last season the NHL banned blindside hits to the head and as a result, only one concussion this season was caused by a blindside hit, compared with four a year ago.
Another issue brought up at the general manager meetings is how to diagnosis head injuries. Under the new protocol, any player showing concussion symptoms must be examined in the locker room. The examination will be performed by a neutral doctor rather than the team’s training staff or doctors. Until now, an examination on the bench by a trainer was the minimum requirement.
As the meetings began, general managers were given the results of a two-year statistical study, and they watched video of nearly all of the concussions this season. According to the study, 44 percent of concussions this season have resulted from legal hits, 26 percent from accidental hits, 17 percent from illegal hits and eight percent from fighting. The cause of the remaining fight percent couldn’t be determined.
Bettman is also looking at the aspect of punishment for players and teams involved in hits that result in concussions. Bettman said he’ll take steps this offseason to ensure clubs are responsible for the acts of their players.
According to ESPN.com, Mario Lemieux is backing a system that would fine the team based on the number of games the player is suspended. The fines would range from $50,000 for one to two games to more than $1 million for 15 games and up. Lemieux also wrote in his letter that fines would double for repeat offenders.
If this system was in place for the fight between the Penguins and Islanders, it would have cost Lemieux and the Penguins $600,000.