Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: Concussions Reaching Epidemic Levels

By: Casey Shea
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Concussions and headshots are at the forefront of the NHL’s landscape right now.

The list of star players currently missing time due to concussions is staggering. Yet, the offending individuals continue to get slaps on the wrist.

While Brendan Shanahan has done a better job this season with handing out suspensions and at least attempting to send the message that headshots will not be tolerated, he needs to take the next step.

Better yet, the league needs to take the next step.

On the Penguins alone, Sidney Crosby (again), Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek are all out because of concussions or concussion-like symptoms.

In the last week, Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux was added to the list.

Today alone, we found out that Ottawa’s Milan Michalek and Carolina’s Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen are also going to be out indefinitely with concussions.

At what point is enough going to be enough?

As tired as I am of seeing more names added to the Penguins’ injury list on what seems to be a daily basis, I’m even more tired of seeing some of the league’s brightest stars going down with concussions.

The league obviously needs guys like Crosby to be healthy and playing, but these other names are just as important to their own respective clubs.

The number of concussion-related injuries around the league is staggering. Just look at this injury list from around the league. Don’t blink, because you may miss more being added.

Having had over 10 months of following Crosby’s rehabilitation, it’s given me some time to come up with some potential solutions to this problem.

First and foremost, there needs to be harsher punishment for first-time offenders when headshots are involved.

Mr. Shanahan I hope this literature makes its way to your desk, e-mail, Blackberry, or whatever other way you receive information on a daily basis.

I propose a minimum 10-game suspension for anyone found to have been the perpetrator of a headshot.

If you want to get into the players’ heads and make them change their games, drop a hefty mandatory suspension on them.

We all remember Eric Godard getting a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to protect his goaltender last year.  Surely delivering a headshot to an opponent should be held to the same standard.

My next suggestion is to change the ruling on equipment, specifically when it comes to helmets.

In the United States at least, kids in youth hockey all the way up through the NCAA ranks are required to wear a full cage or face shield.

I’m unaware of any scientific proof of this, but I would think that better head protection would reduce the number of concussions.

As it stands right now, a player’s nose, jaw, etc. takes the direct blow when a headshot is delivered.

With a full face shield or cage, the equipment would absorb some of the hit. Naturally, the player’s head will still be knocked around, but having that extra bit of protection couldn’t hurt.

Players complain about visors and cages being too restrictive of their vision on the ice. I can see where they’re coming from to a small extent.

However, most grew up playing with full shields of cages, so I don’t see what the big deal is.

I’ve heard many fans say how they like being able to see the player’s faces and can better recognize them as a result.

Obviously, having full head protection would reduce that significantly. However, my argument is to simply look at the NFL.

Faces of NFL players are rather covered by bars or shields and most fans can still tell who they are.

The NFL’s fanbase is just as rabid as the NHL’s fanbase so I really don’t see how this would be an issue.

Another potential solution would be to look at the shoulder and elbow pads being used by the players these days.

Back in my playing days (which weren’t all that long ago), I had hard-shell plastic shoulder pads with heavy-duty elbow pads. Guys in the locker room nicknamed me “Robocop” for a while because of how absurdly larger I became with that equipment.

Now, imagine an NHL-sized player with the same equipment and moving a whole lot faster than I could ever dream of going on the ice.

Part of the problem is the player delivering the headshot. The other problem is being hit with oversized equipment.

The NHL has already cracked down on goaltender equipment, why not do something about other players’ equipment?

You can’t ignore the fact that hockey is a physical game. It’s what makes the game what it is.

The players are some of the toughest and greatest athletes on the planet.

The league and the players need to get together and come up with a solution on this immediately. The game is only suffering by having its top-tier players in the press box because of concussions.

You’re never going to fully eliminate concussions from a physical game, to think that is possible is foolish.

However, things can be done to curb the number of them being sustained.

I only hope that the league is listening.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.

For More Penguins Coverage Check Out Puck Talk With Popchock.

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