Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Man-games lost to concussions on the upswing in NHL

Philadelphia Flyers centre Claude Giroux (28) gets looked over by the training staff against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2nd period at the Wells Fargo Center. Giroux suffered a condussion on the play. Christopher Szagola-US PRESSWIRE

Christopher Szagola/US PRESSWIRE

It was, by all accounts, a dazzling array of information.

Statistics, charts and video analysis of penalties, hits and concussions all presented by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan and company in the name of player safety with 30 general managers watching on here at a luxury resort on Monday morning.

Among the highlight reels was one particular show kept away from the gathered media.

Story continues below advertisement

"We watched a video of every concussion this year," Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland noted. "It's a hard game."

How hard is too hard and how many concussions is too many has become part of the debate during these meetings in South Florida.

And all that data play a role in it, too.

Among the tidbits offered was the news that hitting remains as prevalent as it ever was, with 45 a game, even as penalty calls have dipped to just 6.8 man-advantages a game.

On the concussion front, Shanahan's figures (which went undisclosed) have head injuries tracking right on the same pace as they were last season.

What's changed is that the number of man-games lost to those concussions is on the rise.

That, however, was viewed as a positive by those in attendance, who for the most part seemed to agree with Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke that the issue is not quite the "epidemic" it's often made out to be.

Story continues below advertisement

"Guys maybe came back too soon in the past," Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said. "Now we're doing a better job of making sure players are ready to play. I think that's actually the best thing that's come out of all of this: The culture has changed. They're not trying to be macho anymore. They realize they don't want to mess around."

Credit that to the education side of things, where the league has made plenty of strides after introducing Rule 48 for blindside hits to the head at these meetings two years ago.

A year later, the rule was broadened further to include more hits.

Not long after that, concussion protocols were introduced to send players that suffer head injuries in games to be diagnosed off the ice.

Every change stands as positive progress, especially in a league not known for moving swiftly in the face of potential disaster (see: Coyotes, Phoenix).

Where the NHL takes its pursuit of the issue next is the tricky part.

Story continues below advertisement

One possible solution will be in changing players' shoulder pads over to more forgiving material, with Shanahan working with manufacturers to create equipment that protects those players who get hit as much as hitters.

Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, meanwhile, took the relatively radical stand on Monday that all hits to the head should be, at minimum, a minor penalty.

"The same as it is for highsticking," he explained.

Several others pointed to Shanahan's data that broke the causes of concussions down into four types: those suffered in fights, those suffered in accidental collisions and those suffered after legal and illegal hits.

Fights were written off as inconsequential given they accounted for a mere 3 per cent of head injuries.

Accidental collisions and legal hits? Exact figures weren't provided, but those were simply deemed part of the game.

But those illegal hits remain the main targets for elimination, something Shanahan has been tasked with and which explains the flurry of 38 suspensions and 30 fines this season.

Combined, those numbers are up roughly 50 per cent from this time last year – a fact universally lauded by the GMs as a job well done on Monday.

That the crackdown hasn't yet resulted in a tangible improvement in the overall concussion numbers wasn't viewed as a red flag, however, not among a group that believes it's already pushed the rulebook hard in the direction of player safety.

"You're never going to get to zero," Holland said of the league's concussion count. "It's going to be impossible to get to zero."

"We're going to have concussions," Burke echoed. "The game won't be worth watching if we get it to zero. What we want to do is take out the unnecessary ones, the senseless ones, which I think Brendan Shanahan is doing a good job of doing…"

"I don't see an epidemic when I watch the games. I don't feel it's a crushing problem. It's something we're ahead of in all of sports and something we have to stay on top of."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.