Monday, December 19, 2011

The Concussion Problem in the NHL

According to Hockey Night in Canada over $87 million dollars is sitting on the shelf due to concussions. Sidney Crosby has basically lost a year of his career, hopefully not more. Chris Pronger was ruled out for the regular season and playoffs by the Flyers on Thursday. The NHL's leading scorer at the time Claude Giroux is out indefinitely. What was a pretty slow year for concussions suddenly took off in the past week.

There is non-stop talk now to find a solution to the growing problem. Some interesting ideas have been tossed out there. Changing the shoulder pads of the players so that they are less bulky most certainly would make a difference. I also think there is some merit to going to Olympic-size ice dimensions. Unfortunately, HNIC also reported that the average would be $10-12 million per rink to make the change. This cost does not factor lost revenue by taking out high-priced front row seats. I don't see teams agreeing to this solution. Others have argued that taking out the trapezoid behind the net and allowing the goalie to play the puck will reduce big hits on helpless defenseman. Finally, automatic icing has been suggested for years as safer than the "touch-up" rule.

While many solutions have been presented most experts are struggling to find the "answer" to the problem. In my opinion the league is not going to find a simple answer. The concussions incurred by Crosby and Giroux came from hits from teammates. And, Pronger's concussion allegedly is from a high stick he took on the follow through of a shot. There is no way to regulate these kinds of incidences. Concussions also occur from random acts like getting hit with the puck in the head.

Keith Jones pointed out that the speed and size of the players is contributing to the increase in concussions. And, no one wants to see the game slow down. I don't see the NHL putting "restrictor plates" on the skates of players. So, where does that leave the NHL?

Curbing aggression will start and end with the players. First and foremost, players must respect one another and eliminate illegal acts that enhance the potential for concussions. They must avoid hitting from behind, boarding, elbowing to the head, and charging at a defenseless player. Again, simply minimizing illegal and borderline play will not eliminate concussions. Thus, players must also be smart and avoid situations that could lead to a head injury. For instance, I am surprised how often I see players turn their back as an opponent is about to hit them. As quick as the game is going players have to keep their head up and be agile. Otherwise they are a sitting duck in the middle of a crossfire.

Ultimately the answers to the concussion problem lie with further research and discussion about the precursors to the incidences causing concussion. It will take a number of changes to curb the tide of concussions. I hope we can find solutions soon that keep the players safe and also maintain the speed of the game.

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