Concussions. We all know what they are, and how dangerous they are. We know that they’re a very controversial topic in today’s NHL, and that is exactly the problem. The NHL and the players (current and former) are in a major battle right now regarding this issue, and a group of former players have even banded together to file a lawsuit against the league following their lifelong struggle with the aftermath.
Well, here we are again with yet another topic to bring up regarding this issue. During the first period of Game 6 between Washington and Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby went head first into the boards. See, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue if 1; Crosby didn’t have the concussion history he does, and 2; he hadn’t already missed time a game with a concussion. Sid the Kid was held out of game 4 with a concussion, and within a week had another dangerous fall into the boards, but why was he not removed for evaluation? On principle alone, he could have been taken out to ensure his safety. A guy with his history (missed 114 games of action since the 2010 season with concussions/concussion like symptoms) should definitely be watched carefully, because nobody wants to see one of the best (if not the best) players in the game have his career cut short due to head injuries.
Now why am I writing about something that has been widely discussed among many experts in analysts for years now? Well, I’m writing about how I believe the NHL has dropped the ball (yet again) on this issue. It was a step in the right direction when the NHL instituted the Concussion Spotter position at games, hoping to catch concussions before they were made worse by continuing the game. The NHL also updated concussion protocol (you can read the full Concussion Evaluation and Management Protocol by clicking here) and seemed to clarify things in an attempt to make the game safer. However, my faith in the new system, while never fully established, has disappeared after how the NHL handled the situation in Pittsburgh on Monday.
That fall, according to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, did not warrant concussion evaluation. In a quote taken from an interview with USA Today Sports, Daly states that “Depending on the mechanism of injury, ‘slow to get up’ does not trigger mandatory removal,” which makes sense, until I read the Concussion Protocol document. Daly went on to say this: “The protocol has to be interpreted literally to mandate a removal. ‘Ice’ as compared to ‘boards’ is in there for a reason. It’s the result of a study on our actual experiences over a number of years. ‘Ice’ has been found to be a predictor of concussions — ‘boards’ has not been”. This where you lost me, Bill.
I looked into the literature of it all, and while reading through the official Concussion Protocol document, I noticed some of the sections didn’t exactly “line-up” with what Bill Daly said. In Section III of the Concussion Evaluation and Management Protocol document, this is what it says:
The part that I highlighted is what I found interesting, and it made it even more interesting when I read further, specifically when I got to part 5 of Section III. As for what this description says, it does say that a combination of direct blows to the head and secondary contact with, yes, the BOARDS, mixed with the any symptoms or signs listed later in this section, that is grounds for removal to evaluate the player. As for Part 5, this is where the document seems to contradict itself. Here is Part 5:
Crosby was slow to get up following his collision with the boards, and logically you would think that would fall under the conditions and signs leading to removal. Well the logic fades when it says nothing about the boards in the “mechanisms of injury”. Sure, it says the ice, but no boards. Obviously, this is where Deputy Commissioner Daly is pulling his response from, but I’ve got to say, this is ridiculous. It says in the description of this Section that secondary contact with the boards can be considered serious, and when combined with symptoms, is grounds for removal and evaluation. Why is it that when a player is slow to get up, suddenly the boards are no longer a “mechanism of injury”? A player’s health and safety should be risked because of a stupid technicality. If the NHL is serious about avoiding concussions, and keeping the players safe, this needs to change. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a “big moment” or “clutch situation”, the spotters need to have the authority to say, “that looked dangerous, check him out”. These protocols are in place to ensure the health and safety of these players in the present, and in the future.
There’s a reason the NHL is being sued, and it’s largely in part to the NHL’s reluctance to admit the link between concussions and long term brain injury, or more specifically CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). To briefly explain CTE, it is basically described as a long term degenerative disease that has been found in people who have suffered repeated blows to the head. Well, that seems familiar. As you, the reader, can probably tell, I’m rather opinionated on the subject, but I know I’m not the only one. The NHL needs to wake up, realize the issues it is facing, and deal with it before someone like Sidney Crosby is forced to hang up his skates due to his concussion history.