The NHL is searching for answers after the recent string of head shots around the league.
The number of players being sidelined with head injuries has been on the incline this season. The most notable player on the shelf battling a head injury is none other than Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who hasn’t played for the Penguins since suffering a concussion in early January.
The most recent victim is Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, who was taken hard and head-first into a stanchion by 6’9′ Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra in his neck as a result. It is unknown when or if he will ever resume playing hockey.
Dallas forward Brad Richards recently returned to the Stars’ roster after being sidelined with a concussion and, in January, Bruins star forward Marc Savard had his season cut short after suffering yet another concussion. These are just a handful of key players who are being knocked out of action with head injuries.
There have been 17 suspensions handed down for head shots this season but it appears the message still isn’t getting through.
Crosby has drawn the most attention in the latest series of devastating blows to head. As of March 14, he had not been skating or doing any off-ice conditioning. Crosby even spent a good chunk of time back home in Nova Scotia with his family to escape the media frenzy left in his wake. Some critics even went as far as to speculate that Crosby’s career may be over as a result of the injury, citing him as the next potential Eric Lindros case.
Crosby, 23, has been sidelined since being run head-first into the boards by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on Jan. 5. A few days earlier, Crosby was a blind-sided during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. However, he did not display any signs of a concussion then.
At the time of his injury, Crosby had been the league’s leading scorer with 32 goals and 34 assists in 41 games.
Crosby recently skated for the first time since suffering the injury — a big step toward a return to the Pens line-up. Crosby was on the ice for 15 minutes in full gear on March 14. He took a few shots and stick handled through a few cones. While this appears to be a big step forward for the face of the NHL, he said there was still no time frame for his return.
Head shots were front and centre during the recent NHL general managers’ meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman introduced the league’s five-step plan to suppress concussions.
Step one involves the NHL working with the NHL Players’ Association on equipment reforms.
The second step is for the NHL to review the concussion protocol. If a player is thought to have suffered a concussion during a game, he must leave the bench to be assessed by a doctor; the physician must not be the team’s athletic therapist. Additionally, the player will be administered a Sports Competition Anxiety Test before returning to play.
As a third step, teams and/or the head coach will be assessed a penalty along with the guilty player when dealing with repeat head-hunting offenders.
Fourth — in what may be a direct result of the Pacioretty injury — safety engineers will do a full evaluation of the playing area in each of the league’s 30 rinks. This means arenas will need to conform to much higher safety standards than those in place now.
Finally, the fifth step will be the formation of a blue ribbon panel that will continue to look at the issue of concussions. That panel would consist of Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk.
Hopefully the NHL’s new protocol surrounding concussions will be effective in extinguishing the issue now and in the years to come.