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Agent calls for NHL to curb ‘concussion epidemic’

Dec 15, 2011, 7:53 PM EDT

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If you polled the hockey world and asked people what they’re most tired of hearing about, it would be some combination of the words “concussion” and “out indefinitely.” The list of names keeps getting larger as Sidney Crosby, Jeff Skinner, Claude Giroux and Milan Michalek are sidelined with troubling head injuries. Michalek’s agent has had enough.

The Canadian Press reveals that Alan Walsh is demanding action from the NHL, which he said is in “the throes of a concussion epidemic.”

“With the economic incentive to make NHL hockey more exciting, the league worked diligently to increase the speed of the game,” Walsh said. “With increased speed necessarily comes increased collision. The results as it relates to player safety are self evident. It’s time for the NHL and teams to treat this issue as the crisis it is.”

Walsh calls for the league to look at the “root causes” of concussions, citing rules that opened up the game, finding safer helmets/mouth guards, head shots and fighting.

I’m with Walsh on improving safety equipment and wouldn’t be surprised to see staged fights gradually decline, but it’s hard to imagine the NHL going back to Dead Puck Era rules. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly more or less confirmed that suspicion by saying “The last thing anybody wants to do is overreact to a very short snapshot in time.” He’s also correct in saying that concussions are likely a fact of life in this sport – to some extent.

That being said, Daly isn’t 100 percent correct in saying that the league has done everything it can. The concussion procedures still have a way to go (“The Quiet Room” process seems like a joke to many, for example) and the NHL should stay on top of safety innovations.

The truth, then, is somewhere in between. The league still has room for improvement when it comes to preventing these injuries, but I don’t think that a drastic measure like bringing back obstruction is the answer.

What do you think, though? How far should the NHL go to curb this “epidemic?”

  1. mojosmagic - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    Chris Pronger done for the year. And the beat goes on.

  2. druppel52 - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:37 PM

    The ISSUE is that you have to twist their arms to even get them to wear a mask. How about better padding in the helmets? Force them to wear mouth guards. I know most do but it seems like there are some who don’t. Hockey is the next NFL.. Be ready for some 2-hand-touch!!

  3. hank10 - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    Taking into consideration that concussions are part of any game where there are collisions and not necessarily due to intentional head hits (see Giroux’, Claude) maybe it’s time to:
    (1) start rethinking how equipment is made and used (as Ed Snider recently suggested);
    (2) have no touch icing to reduce high speed collisions with players and end boards/glass;
    (3) reintroduce the red line to try and slow down the game; or
    (4) go to European/Olympic sized rinks to increase the time and space which larger, faster players need (this will not be a big seller for owners, but too bad).

    • blkeskimo1785 - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:53 PM

      Also see Michalek, Milan.

    • blkeskimo1785 - Dec 16, 2011 at 6:27 AM

      If the owners wouldn’t buy off on expanding the rinks to Olympic-sized, maybe they could consider expanding the width from 5 to 10 feet. I think that little extra room would help.

  4. blkeskimo1785 - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    They need to get away from those hard-capped shoulder pads. Haven’t they been working on helmets that would limit the chance of concussions? I thought that was something Mark Messier was working on.

    • hank10 - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:25 PM

      Another issue with helmets, besides the amount of padding or other tech to limit concussions, is that a lot of players do not wear them correctly. How many guys do you see where their chinstraps are just hanging loosely under their chins a-la Chris Pronger and even Gretzky in those long ago days? Conversely, some players wear them too tight as evidenced by the red or white marks on their foreheads after they take them off. Unless the helmet is securely and properly worn, no amount of padding or engineering will be of any use.

  5. Kristenaux - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:51 PM

    The first thing people think about when talking concussion is to 1)make better head protection in the form of better helmets & 2)minimize the hardness of gear like shoulder pads that are used to slam into the head and face area. But neither of these things would solve concussion…first you have to understand concussion & how it occurs. Concussion (of the brain) is when the head is impacted so hard that it snaps, causing the brain *inside the skull* to hit on the *inside* of the skull. There is not a helmet made that can protect against that. Even whiplash, where the head isn’t touched can cause a concussion.
    So, having said that, we come back to how hits are delivered and whether they are delivered with the intent to injure. Meaning…the game of hockey would have to be changed. And I can’t see that happening. Fans like it the way it is and players are expendable. Harsh sounding isn’t it? But true. Ultimately it’s all about money and fans are willing to do that to see a hated player go down. The only thing is, sometimes it’s their player who pays the price.

  6. Elite Leadership Training - Leadership Out Front!!! - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    You are correct, it has little to do with helmet and padding. Though these definitely help, it’s speed vs. impact and the movement then sudden stopping of the brain inside the skull. So technically you could skate around with a concrete block on your head and still receive a concussion.
    Targeting the head has to be removed & both the players & league have responsibility. It will still happen from time to time just from the play & speed of the game. However it can be reduced through training enforcement.

  7. Nowhere Man - Dec 16, 2011 at 12:23 AM

    Firstly, Alan Walsh is a boob extraordinaire. He unfortunately makes a little sense here.

  8. arsement - Dec 16, 2011 at 12:39 AM

    I wonder if any of these guys currently sidelined wear mouth pieces (Skinner wears one). Mouth pieces prevent some concussions… obviously depending on the angle of the hit.

  9. andyreidisfat - Dec 16, 2011 at 5:57 AM

    The simplest fixes are forcing the players to wear full shields or taking away football type pads players wear.

    I think the best thing for the NHL and the players and te FANs is to go to the international rules and rink size.

    I would vote for the rules change and the limiting of pads the players wear.

    As good of an idea as the full shields seem like on the surface as someone who has played with an without the shield for many years there is major draw backs to both. While no doubt a shield will help prevent head injuries it will also shrink the field of vision and produce more collisions and worse game play. The worst part of the full shield is the amount of time you must have your head down to see the puck. Anyone who has ever played can tell you, havin. Your head down is the most dangerous way to be on the ice.

    So rip out the front row make the rink a bit bigger. Limit the size and material of the shoulder and elbow pads( people don’t always realize these guys have Kevlar plating on their pads these days. That’s what bullet proof vests are made of) and change the icing rule.

    As far as the fighting goes, I have seen 2 flyers games this year where a fight win gave the team the momentum to win the game, I would hardly call those fights “staged” . Not to mention when was the last time a player got concussed fighting ?

  10. tommytd - Dec 16, 2011 at 6:19 AM

    Better get your act together NHL. With so many of your superstars riding the bench with “concussion-like symptoms” you’re gonna dilute your product to the point where your gate might start feeling it. Folks tune you in to watch these stars display their multiple talents…they can’t do it getting bench splinters! “Houston…you got a problem.”

  11. cshearing - Dec 16, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    I’m of the belief that there is not new equipment needed so much as a return to old equipment. The trends are easy to follow; the more you clad these guys in armor, the more reckless they are.

  12. blomfeld - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    Today in 2011, the NHL rink is the exact “same” size as it was back in 1885 … yet the players playing within that 200 x 80 foot confine have at least “doubled” in terms of their size, speed and strength … and this disparity is now accelerating at an almost exponential rate from year to year (ie: to the point now where 1980’s footage almost resembles a Beer League) … in summary the current formula is gravely flawed and the game will ultimately fail unless corrective action is taken soon … some obvious places to start would be:

    – immediately increase rink size to Olympic/European dimensions
    – immediately reduce size and amount of padding worn by all players
    – immediately eliminate all composite material sticks (ie: wood only)

  13. tlndma - Dec 17, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    When teams play 4 on 4 do you see many of the type of hits that are causing theses concussions? No…… Make the rink a little wider and longer and add a little room behind the goalines.

  14. nfskater - Dec 20, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    I can’t see how banning composite sticks would have any effect and reducing padding might make a marginal difference as the hard plastic covered shoulder pads is not really going to affect the impact of a blow much. In fact, other injuries could increase without the high end protection.

    Blomfeld, where you are right on is with the RINK SIZE! Hockey played in days of old was slower and a completely different style and the rink size suited that era…like you say even 80’s hockey looks slower compared to todays pro game. I can’t believe it’s not front and center that rink size is to me by far the most significant factor!! It makes so much physical sense…like molecules in a confined area they will collide less and with less impact, speed them up and guess what happens? Players are faster and bigger and the odds of colliding not only in body checks and boards but with their own players.
    When I play rec hockey one game is slower and it’s pretty safe however my faster skate of the week you really got to keep your head up to not hit something. When watching a recent pro game live I can’t believe they are not colliding all the time it’s so fast. It only makes sense that increasing the surface area would decrease the injuries.
    Sure, owners won’t like the cost of renos and removing the valuable front rows will cut into profits but the alternative is a risk of not selling tickets if the stars aren’t in town and the game overall will certainly suffer.

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