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Report: NHL rule changes haven’t decreased concussion rates

Jul 17, 2013, 6:15 PM EDT

Max Pacioretty AP

Three years ago, the NHL tightened its rules on hits to the head in an effort to curb injuries and concussions.

According to a new study, it’s not working.

Conducted by neurosurgeon and concussion researcher Dr. Michael Cusimano of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, the study compared concussion rates before and after the NHL introduced rules against hits to the head in 2010.

“The rate of concussion did not decrease,” Cusimano said in an interview, as per CBC. “It in fact increased the first year and in the second year in the NHL it stayed stable.

“So we didn’t see a decline like I think everyone had hoped, including the NHL, who said brought in primarily for player safety.”

The amendment to rule 48 — illegal checks to the head — was introduced two years ago, at the start of the 2010-11 campaign..


Illegal checks to the head, defined as “a lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted,” will now be subject to a five-minute major penalty and automatic game misconduct, as well as possible supplemental discipline if deemed appropriate by the League.

While the aim is to prevent severe injuries, like the concussions suffered last season by players such as Florida’s David Booth and Boston’s Marc Savard, hockey remains a contact sport and [Director of Officiating Terry] Gregson made clear that just because there is contact to the head, it doesn’t automatically make for an illegal hit.

Cusimano suggests the rule isn’t working is because of how it was originally worded — and how it’s been called.

“Part of it’s the way the rule’s written. Part of it’s the way the rule is enforced. Part of it’s the penalties associated with the rule,” he explained. “And part of it is that concussions are also coming from other causes like fighting, that is still allowed.”

Another issue, it seems, is the sheer physicality of the sport.

Cusimano and his researchers said 64 per cent of NHL concussions were caused by bodychecking, while 28 per cent of concussions — and 28 per cent of suspected concussions — were caused by illegal incidents that resulted in a penalty, fine or suspension.

As for solutions, Cusimano came up with four suggestions: banning fighting, stiffer penalties for teams/players that cause concussions, changing equipment regulations and looking at different ice sizes and dimensions.

  1. packerswin96 - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    Wanna know why concussions aren’t down? It is because the equipment needs to be changed, every player now wears armor, go back to equipment like the 80’s and concussions will drastically reduce, another thing to help is to make the ice surface bigger, take the lowest row of seats out, bigger players makes less room on the ice.

    • sunderlanding - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:36 PM

      I agree.

    • sunderlanding - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:37 PM

      …except for the part about making the ice surface bigger. That would suck.

      • tdrusher225 - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:53 AM

        That would be awesome, are you kidding? Giving these players more room to skate and make plays is hardly a bad thing.

      • sunderlanding - Jul 18, 2013 at 2:42 PM

        I disagree. The small ice surface forces interaction sooner. Meaning more body contact. Big ice you get international style hockey. I like my North American hockey. If you like international hockey go stream it online, and quit trying to change the NHL.

      • tdrusher225 - Jul 18, 2013 at 7:04 PM

        You understand there’s a happy medium that can be met, right? The NHL ice surface is a bit too small and doesn’t allow these huge players to make as many plays. The Olympic sheet is very big and discourages physicality and allows players to float. So here’s a brilliant idea. Why not find a number between 85 ft (NHL: 200 x 85) and 100 ft (IIHF: 200 x 100) for the NHL ice surface.

      • sunderlanding - Jul 18, 2013 at 7:08 PM

        I don’t find a problem with the ice size. I think the reduction of equipment would help with the concussion issue enough that they wouldn’t have to increase the ice. I still think there are enough great plays that I never find myself thinking: “damn if only the ice was a bit bigger”.

      • tdrusher225 - Jul 18, 2013 at 7:25 PM

        It’s not a huge problem, and the reduction in equipment would certainly help, but there’s no doubt the game would be better and more entertaining if players were allowed more room to operate. The flow of the game would be much better, meaning less offsides, less neutral zone congestion, more room to make plays in the offensive zone, and of course more scoring. I love physicality, and this certainly wouldn’t do away with it, but hockey is a game that relies on speed and flow. And an injection of that would make the game so much better to watch and play.

      • sunderlanding - Jul 19, 2013 at 3:42 PM

        I disagree. I like the amount of goals. 1-0 games happen, and so do 7-5 games. I find the game fast. I RARELY (if ever) watch a game and think “wow too many offsides and too much neutral zone time”. Sure it happens in little bits, but unless you’re watching Pheonix on a regular basis (and who does that) it’s not an issue. Most successful teams play a hard hitting flowing game. Just look at the final four this year. A combination of scoring and hitting teams.

      • tdrusher225 - Jul 19, 2013 at 3:54 PM

        I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. It’s clear we both love the game and personally I’ll watch it no matter what, but it can always improve. And I think improvements like this would help the game a great deal.

      • sunderlanding - Jul 19, 2013 at 4:03 PM

        I agree it could improve. Eliminate the trapizoid, reduce player and goalie equipment, remove the instigator rule ect. I just don’t see the increased ice surface as an improvement. I think a lot of people who say it will let people play a more “skill” game forget that there is a lot of skill to playing good defense, but like you said that’s just something we don’t see eye to eye on. Either way I’m pumped for next year.

    • patmanbnl - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:26 PM

      Agreed. If you don’t have the armor and it hurts for the player delivering a big hit, they’ll start to think twice before doing it.

    • mp1131211 - Jul 17, 2013 at 11:02 PM

      This is probably true. What is there to protect the musculoskeletal system transfer the force of the impact to the brain which has space to rattle around in skull. Nice observation!

  2. 950003cups - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    If they wanna get rid of half the concussions, get rid of the trapezoid, and bring back the “2 line pass” rule again. Bringing back the redline will make the game a boring trapfest. But there’s no reason to keep the trapezoid.

  3. stakex - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    Most of the modern rule changes make the game more dangerous. The lack of hooking and holding has sped the game up to a point that simply means a lot of hits will be delivered with more force then in the past. Not to mention there are a lot of situations (a defensemen retrieving a dumped in puck for example) where players are not very vulnerable due to the lack of interference.

    Its the un-spoken truth, but a faster game is a more dangerous game.

    Not to mention that the anti-headshot rules themselves don’t help. The first thing you were always taught in hockey was always keep the head up because someday someone will be looking to take it off. Now though, younger players have pretty much been told “Well its a penalty to hit you in the head now, so its fine to skate with it down”. It sounds backwards, but rules that make headshots a suspendable offense will cause more head injuries because younger players don’t worry about getting hit high as much. Most of the headshots you see today, wouldn’t happen if the guy getting hit had his head up.


    As for their “suggestions”….

    Banning fighting – Very few concussions come from fights. This isn’t an anti-concussion suggestions, its a moral objection to fighting in hockey.

    Stiffer penalties for teams/players that cause concussions – Their own research says most concussions are caused by clean body checks… so how exactly would this have an impact?

    Changing equipment regulations – This one I agree with. Softer, thinner equipment will help cut down concussions. Not to mention a guy wearing a suit of armor is more then willing to throw his body around like a weapon…. if the allowed equipment wasn’t as strong I doubt that would be the case.

    Looking at different ice sizes and dimensions – Bigger ice means more speed, and more speed means more force when contact is made. More force = more concussions.

    • ray2013 - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:05 PM

      I agree with some of what you had to say. It seems like players aren’t taught to protect themselves in the same way as in the past. You mention headshots and I’d add checking from behind. Drawing a penalty isn’t worth it. They should be protecting themselves.

      As for the lack of hooking and holding as cause for an injury, I don’t necessarily agree with that. I’d put it more on the uneven way the game is refereed from the pre-season to the regular season to the post-season. Call it the same all the way through. We’ll see a lot of penalties to start, but if players know certain actions lead to severe consequences, they’ll adjust.

      • ray2013 - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:13 PM

        The main thing I would add is that in the good old days, the NHL used to have bench-clearing brawls. If two players were in a fight, another player might get involved in that fight (aka “third man in”). The NHL resolved itself to do away with both of these acts. They created clear rules with strict punishments, and as a result, we don’t see them anymore.

        Figure out a way to do the same with headshots. Players leading with their elbow to the face/head, that’s ten games, second offence, 20 games, etc. Strict punishments for the flagrant stuff. That might lower it.

      • endusersolutions2013 - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:45 PM

        You raise several points, so hard to figure out what drew the downthumb. I agree with two parts of your follow-ons. Consistancy – “letting the boys play” in the playoffs when it involves headshots is not appropriate at any point in the season.

        And I agree with the elbow to the head. A body check that would normally have shoulder hitting shoulder can miss with no intent to “head hunt”, and an elbow to the head is intentional. I remember Dustin Brown doing that stunt two games in a row, and getting a 1 game suspension for both. Then the cheap shot artist tried to take out Jaden Schwartz I believe in the Blues series, 1st trying knee to knee, then elbow to head, and fortunately missed both.

        Too bad there is no “attempt to injur ” penalty” Would probably require corroboration from a replay official, but that stuff is “rinky dink”.

      • stakex - Jul 17, 2013 at 8:15 PM

        ray2013, its pretty easy to understand why the new hooking/holding rules make the game more dangerous. The game is faster as a result, and the faster it is the more dangerous it is. Its a simple matter of physics…. the faster players are moving when they make contact, the more force is delivered. Its the force that causes concussions.

        There have also been a ton of hits that would never happen if limited amounts of interference were allowed. A prime example is when a defensemen goes back for a puck and gets flattened by an attacking player coming in un-touched from center ice. In the old days, the other defensemen would be allowed to interfere with (and thus slow) that attacking player and protect the defensemen going for the puck.

        That’s not to say that you need hooking/holding everywhere… but its undeniable that the sport is more dangerous as a result of a lot of the new rules intended to speed the game up.

      • ray2013 - Jul 18, 2013 at 5:55 AM

        @stakex; I suppose on nights where referees decide to read their rulebook before they hit the ice, and remember that there are penalties for hooking and holding (and also call them), that the speed of players can increase the risk of concussions. Having referees call those rules consistently over an entire game is a pretty rare occurrence. But I’m going to try to remember to watch for that next season. Might be something to it.

    • mp1131211 - Jul 18, 2013 at 1:16 AM

      “Now though, younger players have pretty much been told “Well its a penalty to hit you in the head now, so its fine to skate with it down””

      This is a sincere question as I am not involved in youth hockey nor are my kids. Are coaching really teaching this? I find it nearly impossible to believe, but like I said, I have no first hand experience with this.

      • mp1131211 - Jul 18, 2013 at 1:17 AM

        *coaches no coaching, in case that wasn’t clear

      • mp1131211 - Jul 18, 2013 at 1:18 AM

        apparently I can’t enter a sentence into PHT tonight without a f**king typo

      • Ryan Leng - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:19 PM

        That’s an emphatic “no,” and your incredulity is well founded. Keeping your head up in hockey is still the norm. No responsible coach would tell his or her players to keep their heads’ down, because one may well run into another player, head contact or not. If everyone is skating around with their heads down all the time, how would they know where their teammates were for a pass? How would they even hit somebody in the first place, other than on mere accident? There are more reasons to keep your head up. There’s all the other parts of your body that are every bit exposed when you aren’t vigilant, so I don’t see how a headshot rule would mitigate those other injuries.

        So no, that was an uneducated conjecture, whoever said it. There are always times in a game when one has to look down for a moment or two, or even has to look backwards to receive a pass (also making one vulnerable). When those players have gotten hit, they tend to suffer the standard victim blaming, typically at the hands of the opposing coach and team: “He should’ve had his head up. He was admiring his pass.” And while, yes, players have a responsibility to keep their heads up, there are times when a player absolutely must look down; and other players know it. They’re subject to the same condition of having to, from time to time, look down to retrieve a puck, so when they pick that moment to hit somebody, it isn’t often random chance. They’re trying to injure. Responsibility goes two ways.

        I’m not sure I buy every argument that explains these head injury cases. For one, making the ice bigger will only make the player skate farther, not faster. You still may only take two strides in the direction of a player before hitting him. Unfortunately, charging is rarely called (…not sure why this is…? referees didn’t make it through preschool for nothing, did they? They can still count.).

        I do think making pads softer and less protective would discourage players from transforming themselves into human cruise missiles. Moreover, the rule change has prompted players to change their games. Niklas Kronwall of the Red Wings now, instead of hitting up-ice with his shoulder, he does so with his butt, turning at the last moment, so that his butt makes contact with the lower half of the player, instead of risking hitting his head. (We might style it a “butt-to-balls” check, which was how I was taught to hit open ice.) So there are some effects visible, and certain players have changed their games significantly to accomodate the rules. Concussions will never disappear fully.

        As should also be noted, fighting does induce concussions, but also other TBIs, that have led to depression and suicide in some career fighters. Cf. with Iraq and Afghan vets who wound up on the business end of an RPG and survived. Such head trauma triggers problems beyond headaches and dizziness.

  4. LampyB - Jul 17, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    Ha! Difficult to reduce concussions when the player isnt actually penalized for the hit. Its a joke

  5. jacketsfan7 - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    I agree with everything you said. Thanks for saying everything I was thinking without having me to type all of that

  6. sjsharks66 - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    Start enforcing the rules on all players, not just the ones with reputations. There is no way to stop concussions in any sport. It is a physical game and people get hurt. Is that not why they make millions of dollars a year?

  7. 19to77 - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    I had the good fortune of meeting Pat Stapleton at the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in June. He spoke a lot about the difference in equipment today and questioned why players seem to suffer more severe injuries now despite supposedly much-superior protection. The hard body armour they wear not only makes contact more dangerous, but he thought it also makes players throw themselves around with less care – thinking that if they can’t get hurt they can hurl themselves around with no consequence. I don’t know how much I buy the last part – I mean, it’s not like the players themselves are unaware of the concussions – but the man made a lot of sense. If he had his way they’d go back to soft pads.

  8. nyrnashty - Jul 17, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    Play Tennis instead of contact sports like hockey or football if you’re worried about concussions. Concussions have been happening for over 100 years in hockey, we just have the tech now to find them. Topics of every summer are concussions and ways to eliminate D and score more goals. Most hockey writers suck, mostly due to never playing! Write about something worth reading!

  9. tbutler704 - Jul 17, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    They’ll eventually ban hockey and football. Probably what is left of boxing also.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:41 PM

      If there is any “sport” that should go 1st, it’s MMA. I’ve never purposefully tuned in, but there was MMA going on on the screen next to a Hawks game I was watching at Buffalo Wild Wings. A fighter was knocked to the canvas, and instead of the other fighter being made to go to his corner, the triumphing fighter was allowed to pummel the guy on the canvas.

      Have we returned to the roman gladiator contests?

      Hockey is the most amazing combination of skill, team play, improvisation and physicality, all at a speed faster than any other team sport (well, maybe not if there is such a thing a team skydiving;)

  10. silversun60 - Jul 17, 2013 at 8:12 PM

    Facts are meaningless! You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true!!

    • mp1131211 - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:59 PM

      So what you’re saying is that facts, meaning things that are true, prove that truths are true. Thank you, captain obvious!

      • silversun60 - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    • endusersolutions2013 - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:49 AM

      Facts are like statistics – you can get a false impression by looking at some in isolation, and folks can deceive by presenting isolated facts/stats, or using them out of context.

      For example, you could have said that the Pens were the best team in the league and are a slab dunk to win the cup if you only looked at goals scores or shots on goal effectiveness. And if you also looked at their defensive stats, you’d have seen their vulnerability.

  11. eggserino - Jul 17, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    How about this one? Maybe teams are identifying more concussions than they had in the past due to the focus on concussions. It’s hard to tell a distinct change when your stats are juked by players unwilling to be diagnosed and teams not diagnosing properly.

    I agree that the equipment has to change.

    I agree that the ice surface needs to be bigger.

    I agree that referees and the league need to be more consistent with the enforcement of the rules.

    • ray2013 - Jul 18, 2013 at 5:32 AM

      I heard a variation of this argument on the radio. Players are more aware of the long-term health implications of repeated concussions, and are more willing to speak up when there is a problem. They also noted that the technology to diagnose concussions has improved dramatically in recent years. It’s possible that the total number of actual concussions has plateaued, or even decreased in the NHL at the same time the total number of identified concussions has increased. Good observation. It’s one I hadn’t thought of until I heard it on the radio.

  12. betrayedbylife - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    when guys like probert, kocur, and grimson were free to beat on players who made dangerous moves on the ice, teams calmed down and paid attention. a lot of these injuries are the result of carelessness, laziness or malevolence. the threat of getting your nose pushed in is a deterrent.

    every once in a while one of these little whiners comes along and says, “ban fighting” but let’s be real for a second here, if fighting were allowed in basketball, how often would you see those grown men pretend to fall down and hobble off the court?

    • endusersolutions2013 - Jul 17, 2013 at 11:20 PM

      On that note, ya’ll may want to check out a great short vid on NBA flopping on Youtube – Vlade Divac “the art of flopping”. Major grin.

  13. thibbledorfpwent - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    Honestly? I don’t care if players get concussions or not, this is a physical sport and the entertainers who are involved at the professional level get paid far more then I do to participate, why does it matter if they get hurt or not? – it certainly doesn’t matter to me, and I love the sport, all these professionals from careers which are normally not on tv are just using this as a medium to get themselves, and their own personal message out there. It’s has nothing to do with players safety, but everything to do with being able to promote the sport and league as “safe” and “family-friendly” and “non-violent” so Dad can justify to Mom allowing their 7 year old to play, watch and b merchandise. The truth is hockey is a violent sport; people get hit, people get hurt, people have died. The sooner people will stop being such wusses about this and just accept that it’s ok in life to sometimes enjoy the violence, the sooner we can move on from this whole charade.

    • Windmiller4 - Jul 17, 2013 at 11:01 PM

      I totally agree with the second half about how the league is trying to promote a “family sport” with this nonsense, but as far as the first part goes about not caring if someone is concussed, have you no heart?

    • packerswin96 - Jul 18, 2013 at 1:15 AM

      I bet you kick little kittens as well! A concussion can change your life for ever (ask Lindros or Savard) a broken leg or jaw is one thing…

  14. thibbledorfpwent - Jul 17, 2013 at 10:48 PM

    What was wrong with the Roman Gladiatorial contests?

    • lostpuppysyndrome - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:59 AM

      Um, getting your rocks off watching guys kill each other? This doesn’t bother you?

  15. drewsylvania - Jul 18, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    I’d say the reporting of concussions has gone up–not their actual incidence.

  16. izlez - Jul 18, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    Percent….Percent…It’s one word. We’re not talking about how often something happens for evbery 1 penny

  17. kane987245 - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    Making the Ice dementions would be a great way to reduce it. Going to Hockey games and seeing the ice size is bigger and there is more to watch would only increase the experience for all fans. As for the thinning of equipment? Completely agree. Watch old Hockey films. They are drilling each other just as hard back than, if not HARDER, than today but due to the fact it has less equipment, they were able to get up and continue.

    Hell, back then the main concern, besides for helmets, was the fact that people were hitting into the goal posts and getting their careers shorten that way! NHL should listen up if they indeed want to reduce concussions like they claim.

  18. thibbledorfpwent - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    1) have no heart? Well physically it would be quite impossible for me to exist without one, so I must assume yes…although I could be a sentient computer program trolling hockey boards for the fun of it before total world domination… I suppose the answer you’re looking for though is no, no I do not. These players are being given the opportunity to carve their names in eternity from the ages of 18-42 (at the far end, no one will play as long as Chelios again) if you we’re to ask me whether I would sacrifice quality of life in the down years from the ages of 45 – 100, for the chance to become immortal in deed, I wouldn’t even hesitate for a second, but I’m an extremely narrow if not singular slice of humanity’s available options and recognize that viewpoint as being practically obscene to most people. The unfortunate truth of the matter is however, that the greatest and most important things these players will do in their lives will happen during their playing careers, everything else will be some desperate attempt to relive the “glory days” and all that goes with it, regardless of what they say public ally, or even to themselves.

    2) it’s not about getting my rocks off watch people kill each other, it’s about recognizing and respecting people who chose to engage in the most total and complete competition with another human being. People always forget that many of gladiators were NOT slaves but rather freemen and even the nobly born fighting for fame, glory, money or love. Yes people died. Yes the contests we’re also used to commit atrocities against many, but there were occasions when the true champions faced each other in an ultimate combat with the prides of their family, town or city resting on their shoulders. Just because we as a society have changed our viewpoint (negatively in my opinion, but I recognize that as an extremely radical one) to the point that we almost overvalue the continuation of A human life, completely ignoring the fact that the length of a life is inconsequential compared to what happens during it, if that means a death that happens before the 80 year average that many of us in civilized western nations enjoy, why is it such a tragedy if the shortened life was lived bigger, broader and better then any other two or ten 80 year long lives? Again I recognize this as an extreme viewpoint not shared by many, but this is a website message board and I clearly have far too much time on my hands so why not vomit this diatribe into cyberspace

  19. jrhawk - Jul 19, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    You people make me laugh.
    A bigger ice surface? Less “armor”? Get real.
    As most of you are probably ignorant of, the NHL was played for decades without any head protection at all. And the number of concussions suffered was nowhere near what it is now. Why? Respect.
    Those players respected each other. Their only aim was to take the player out of the play. Not today. The aim now is to take him out of the GAME! Hurt him so bad he can’t continue!
    So why is it you people can’t get a grip on the world’s best sport? Not good enough for you? Go watch your moronic NASCAR.

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