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Gretzky says NHL has taken the right approach to head shots

The Canadian Press

1/20/2011 5:47:19 PM

Wayne Gretzky says the NHL has done a good job of tackling the head shot issue.

While some say the league has been too slow to act on concussions, the Great One believes the NHL is on the right track.

"I like how the NHL approaches things now," Gretzky told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday. "They always put together committees or groups and they try to analyze it and figure out the best way that they're going to keep the game exciting and yet try to protect the players. They try to do the best they can to stay on top of things like that.

"That's all you can ask for."

Gretzky says people don't always know the right answers, "but at least you can try to find them and that's what they're trying to do."

The controversial issue has been back in the spotlight since superstar Sidney Crosby was sidelined with a concussion earlier this month. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain hasn't played in more than two weeks and will almost certainly miss the NHL all-star game in Raleigh on Jan. 30.

The NHL introduced Rule 48 prior to the season -- giving referees the ability to call a minor or major penalty for any "lateral, back pressure or blindside hit" where the principal point of contact is the head. But it hasn't reduced the number of concussions.

The finger has been pointed in many directions. Outspoken "Hockey Night in Canada" commentator Don Cherry suggested Wednesday that players don't have enough respect for one another, but Gretzky doesn't share his opinion.

Gretzky, who retired in 1999, spent four years coaching the Phoenix Coyotes after the NHL lockout and continues to watch a lot of games on television. He thinks some notable differences in the game are responsible for the rash of concussions.

"Part of the change is just the size of the players, the speed of the players," said Gretzky, who will celebrate his 50th birthday next week. "At the end of the day, all of these guys are really good guys. They all have respect for each other, they all have families of their own -- nobody's out there trying to give guys concussions.

"Just the game has gotten bigger and faster, and in some ways stronger."

It's tough to say how many concussions Gretzky may have suffered during his career because the awareness of the injury wasn't what it is today. However, he was diagnosed with a "minor concussion" after getting knocked out cold by a hit shortly after joining the St. Louis Blues in 1996.

Gretzky can identify with Crosby's position in the recent debate, with many urging the young star to speak out strongly on the issue.

"You're going to find when you're a Crosby or a Howe or a Lemieux -- you're going to get caught in those positions," said Gretzky. "You can ask 500 players their opinion and all people want to hear is the one guy's opinion.

"He says all the right things and does all the right stuff. I'm sure he's going to say the right things."