Bettman introduces plan to curb concussions at GM meetings

TSN.ca Staff
3/14/2011 7:01:14 PM
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In a season that has made headlines due to the number of concussions suffered by star athletes, it was no wonder that headshots were front and centre with the start of the NHL general managers' meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters on Monday that the league reviewed almost every single concussion that has occurred this season and concluded that there is no one single factor that contributes to concussions.

"There's no one single thing causing concussions," said Bettman. "There is no magic bullet to deal with this. I know that it's an emotional, intense subject, particularly for our fans. We get it. But dealing with this issue is not something you can do whimsically or emotionally.

"You really have to understand what's going on."

According to the league, 26 percent of concussions this season have been caused by 'accidental' collisions, while 44 percent occurred from what the NHL considers a 'legal' hit. Eight percent of concussions are caused due to fighting while 17 percent fall under the heading of an 'illegal' hit.

"My position is there should be no head hits," said Penguins GM Ray Shero. "That's the position of the Penguins, that's mine, and I brought it up today in our group."

The hits described add up to 95 percent.  The league left five percent as "reason not available" since it could not locate video of every hit.

The good news is that only 17 percent of all man-games lost this season are due to concussions. That number is down from 44 percent last season.

In addition, Bettman suggested a five-step plan he intends to implement in an effort to curb concussions.

The first step involves former NHL All-Star and current NHL vice-president of hockey and business development Brendan Shanahan working with the NHL Players' Association on equipment reforms.

The second step would be to revise the current concussion protocol. If a player is suspected of being concussed during a game, that player must then be removed from the bench and taken to a quiet area where the player can be assessed by a medical doctor, who is not the team's athletic therapist. The player will then be given a SCAT test before he is cleared to return to play. Bettman said that this will be in place by the end of the week.

"We probably need a few days because we're going to need some conference calls with the physicians and the trainers to make sure they understand what to do," said Bettman. "But once we can fully implement it, which will be in the next few days, it will be in effect."

Third, in dealing with players who are deemed repeat offenders on illegal hits to the head, penalties will be assessed to not only the player, but also to the team and/or head coach.

Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux sent a letter to Bettman last week calling for this kind of action, underlining the need for less subjectivity.

"While there have been 50-plus suspensions since the start of the 2009-10 season, the suspensions themselves don't seem to be deterring these illegal acts and tactics," wrote Lemieux in the letter obtained by ESPN.com. "And we've often seen repeat offenders. We think it is time that teams also are held accountable for the actions of their players. We propose instituting a policy of automatically fining a team when one if its players is suspended -- with the amount of the fine based on the length of the suspension. This should serve as a disincentive for teams as well as players to employ these kinds of tactics."

Fourth, safety engineers will do a full evaluation of the playing area in each of the league's 30 rinks. Individual arenas will have to conform to higher safety standards (for example plexiglass versus seamless glass in some rinks).

The fifth and final step will be the assembling of a blue ribbon panel to continue to look at the issue of concussions going forward.  That panel would consist of Shanahan, along with recently-retired defenceman Rob Blake, as well as Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk.

NHLPA Executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement that he felt that Bettman's model was a step in the right direction.

"We welcome these steps and look forward to discussing these and other issues with the NHL to provide a safer working environment for the Players," Fehr stated.

Follow TSN.ca for news and updates throughout the NHL general managers' meetings.

Gary Bettman (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
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