You can’t say the NHL isn’t being proactive about the concussion issue. In fact, the league is acting quickly and aggressively in the wake of the head-injury epidemic. Commissioner Gary Bettman detailed a five-point plan at Monday’s GM meetings to deal with the situation.
1. Player equipment. Or, more specifically, a focus on reducing the size of the equipment without reducing its protectiveness…all while not compromising the safety of those players contacted by that equipment. Although modern equipment has probably never been better in regard to limiting injury to those wearing it, it’s so good that it may be a factor in injuring the poor guy on the receiving end of a hit.
This is definitely a tricky conundrum, but one that needs looked at nonetheless. I’ve been telling those who will listen to me that an elbow pad or shoulder pad directly to the chin is a blow at least equal to a hard punch. That protective plastic is hard, which is good to protect the elbow/shoulder, but trouble for another player’s head.
2. The NHL’s protocol for evaluating concussions. A trainer will no longer be able to diagnose a player on the bench. The plan calls for mandatory removal from the game, at which time a team physician will examine the injured player.
This is obviously both wise and long overdue. I was shocked that a trainer actually had the authority to green light a player’s return. Doctor knows best.
3. Enforcement of the rules. Per the NHL: “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.”
I’m sure this basically means more and/or harsher suspensions. The league needs to come down harder on repeat offenders (yes, even Matt Cooke) and should even increase punishment to first-timers. If they really want to put an end to head-shots, taking money away from the players is a good way to do it.
4. The rinks. A safety engineering firm is going to evaluate all 30 NHL arenas and determine if any changes need to be made. One thing is certain – there will be no more seamless glass.
I’m not sure how you can possibly make the rink any safer other than the glass. The whole stanchion/turnbuckle issue is almost unfixable short of adding more padding. Removing the glass between the benches is an option, but one I don’t think is necessary and one that could potentially lead to more problems.
5. Formation of “Blue-Ribbon” Committee. Ex-players Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk will all examine relevant safety-related topics.
This seems kind of vague, but you really can’t go wrong with the people involved here. All four were legit superstars when they played. Two are currently GMs and one works for the NHL. These guys are all more than qualified to make decisions regarding player safety.
Again, you have to applaud the NHL. They’re actively trying to fix what’s currently broken. Will the five-step plan work? Only time will tell, but it can only help.