“Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger head a long list of NHL stars who may not or will not play again this season because of head injuries. And yet, the NHL brass refuses to admit this is a serious problem that needs to be tackled on many fronts.
Or maybe the league actually recognizes the severity of the problem but is loath to admit it publicly. Either way, the NHL needs to marshal the considerable forces it has access to and take bigger steps to find solutions. Here are the areas that should be under consideration:
Culture. Far too many NHL players are too careless or have too little respect for their peers when it comes to hits to the head. Look at the elbow Rene Bourque of the Calgary Flames threw at the head of Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals last week. Brendan Shanahan, the league’s head disciplinarian, gave Bourque a five-game suspension. He needs to come down harder on this type of offender.
Equipment. The league is working with designers and manufacturers to come up with softer shoulder pads and elbow pads. A dozen players are already testing a new prototype of shoulder pads. This equipment must be adopted – and players forced to use it – as soon as possible.
Treatment. The NHL should tap into the long list of reputable concussion experts willing to help and develop a sensible plan for treating concussions. Then it should get the National Hockey League Players’ Association to join it in strongly encouraging the players to follow it. The chiropractor and his unorthodox methods Crosby turned to got a lot of media attention. But in several interviews with concussion experts, I did not hear one unequivocally endorse those methods, to put it mildly.
Rule changes. All hits to the head need to be outlawed, not just the blind-side ones.
Game changes. Since increased speed is responsible for the rise in concussions more than any other factor, the NHL’s general managers need to seriously consider ways to counter this. The most popular suggestion, putting the centre red line back in play to slow speed through the neutral zone, requires discussion, as does widening the ice surface.
Fighting. Once it was easy to say hardly anyone was seriously injured in a hockey fight. Then size, steroids, boxing and mixed-martial-arts lessons entered the picture. The majority of concussions in the NHL do not come from fights but the game has evolved to where pure fighters are not necessary. Getting rid of goons will remove a certain percentage of concussions and remove those players from the long-term brain damage common to their profession.
Even an unlikely success in the above areas will not guarantee the elimination of concussions. As long as hockey is a physical game, the chance of being concussed will always be there. But that’s all there should be, a long-shot chance.”
It struck me to-day that with exceptions, hockey goalies are not likely to suffer lots of concussions in their careers. One of the weird things about concussions is that they are not being tracked accurately with pro athletes. It’s always about self reporting which we’re seeing is a very sketchy process in terms of being accurate.So if we were to have a control group of pro athletes for the concussed ones, goalies would be the best option as a control group.
So hopefully we can slowly start tracking our athletes to see what changes happen with time in their bodies that may be affected if anything at all compared to regular people without lots of concussions. This study looks like it’s going to take a long time before we can tease out some trends of changes to better understand concussions.