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Rule changes haven’t curbed concussions in the NHL this season

Dec 3, 2010, 4:47 PM EDT

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There are some definite positives when you compare the way the NHL is handling hits to the head this season compared to last. One would think that Matt Cooke surely would have been suspended for that brutal hit on Marc Savard if it took place during this season rather than last, especially when you consider the suspensions handed out in borderline cases such as Joe Thornton’s hit on David Perron.

Teams are also being far more careful with players who are fighting through concussion symptoms, this season especially.

All that being said, we must get to the sobering bad news: TSN passes along a report that the league is still on the same disturbing pace when it comes to players suffering concussions according to Dr. Ruben Echemendia (the NHL’s neuropsychologist).

Echemendia has been studying concussions in the NHL since 1997, noting that there tends to be an average of 75 of those types of head injuries per season, but last season featured a worrisome 84 and this season matches that pace through the same number of games.

That being said, Echemendia didn’t want to be totally negative.

Dr. Ruben Echemendia, the NHL’s neuropsychologist, said Friday that 33 concussions had been reported as of Dec. 1 — the exact same number as a year ago. However, he was quick to note that it doesn’t necessarily mean the rule change hasn’t been ineffective.

“It’s premature,” said Echemendia. “We need to very carefully follow the concussions this year and next year and see to what extent the rule changes have or have not had a change in behaviour. We don’t know exactly what’s causing the concussions to be at the level that they are at this point in time.”

The league has been tracking concussions since 1997 and typically sees about 75 reported each season — roughly half of which are the result of blindside hits.

Rule 48 officially entered the NHL’s rulebook over the summer, giving referees the right to call a minor or major penalty for any “lateral, back pressure or blindside hit” where the principal point of contact is the head. Every call is automatically reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.

It’s unclear what is causing this jump in concussions – or what can really be done to slow them down, aside from changing the very nature of the game – but at least the league is trying to handle them with more finesse. Concussions have been on many of our minds in the last two seasons in particular and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.

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