The NHL’s Concussion Debate Continues…

Well, my first post on this blog was going to be about why America hates soccer (after reminding myself of why I hate it after catching a few brief minutes of the last USA friendly), but Brooks Laich of the Washington Capitals forced me to put it on hiatus while I explain to him why the NHL has concussion protocol.

According to ESPN, he spoke up after a recent game against the Penguins concerning a play in which fellow teammate Jay Beagle was knocked to the ice during a fight with Arron Asham, and was not allowed to return to the game because of the NHL’s new concussion protocol. This protocol states that if a player has suffered an injury to the head, he must be taken to a quiet room away from the ice and evaluated by a doctor. If the doctor feels that there is any chance that a concussion occurred, the player is not allowed to return to the ice.

Laich said “I really don’t care about that awareness crap, to be honest, I’m sick of hearing all this talk about concussions and the quiet room. This is what we love to do, guys love to play, they love to compete, they want to be on the ice. How do you take that away from somebody?

“We accept that there’s going to be dangers when we play this game and you know that every night you get dressed,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like we’re being babysat a little too much. We’re grown men, we should have a little say in what we want to do.”

Wow. What was last season all about? It was the Year of the Concussion in the NHL. Obviously, I’m primarily referring to the best player in hockey, Sidney Crosby, and his season ending concussion during the Winter Classic AGAINST THE CAPITALS. There were more than a few other players to go down with devastating head injuries during that season as well, including star Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller. Nor should we forget the hit that Zdeno Chara put on Max Pacioretty, which appeared to take the young Montreal Canadian’s head off and forced him to be carted off the ice in ominous anticipation of if he suffered spinal cord injury. These events forced the NHL to make changes to avoid hits that could lead to brain injuries. Every company is responsible for their employees’ safety. If an employee gets injured, they miss work and that isn’t beneficial to anyone. Especially, the money maker of all professional sports – fans.

Inevitably, fans are what makes the NHL go ‘round and if their favorite players are missing action because of preventable head shots, then they’ll get sick of the NHL, too.  A study conducted earlier this year by the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that the amount of time NHL players missed because of concussions increased from 1997 to 2004. The report examined physician reports from seven regular seasons. There were a total of 559 concussions during regular-season games, a concussion rate of 5.8 for every 100 players, or an estimated 1.8 concussions per 1,000 player-hours. Of the 529 cases in which lost time was recorded, 31 percent involved players missing more than 10 days of competition. In 11 percent of those cases, players continued to play and then later reported symptoms to medical staff after the game. That means one in three players with concussions missed more than 10 because of them. This time missed pisses off fans and the NHL didn’t have a choice but to make a change.

Laich was on the same team of man (Dave Steckel) who took Crosby out of the game for half a season, a year that Crosby would probably eventually be the goals and/or points leader in the NHL. Wasn’t he aware of the consequences of that hit? Whether he thought it was clean or not, it hurt Crosby and stole him from the fans and potential fans of the NHL. And whether you love Crosby or hate him, you want him in the game – to either put on dazzling displays of exquisite hockey skill or to be run down into the boards at any given moment – you want him there!

Laich needs to realize that he might not be lucky for his entire career. So far, he hasn’t had a single documented concussion during his career in the NHL. He doesn’t know how life can be ruined by a head injury. If the proper precautions aren’t taken, it can lead to the end of a career and the end of a comfortable life. Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard suffered concussions in the previous two seasons (one hit coming from the often hated Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke) that left him as a shell of his former self and will ultimately force him into an early retirement. He still suffers post-concussion symptoms and if you asked him, I’d be willing to bet he’d tell you that he wishes the concussion protocol implemented this season was there for him in years past. There are many other former NHL players who ended their careers because of concussions, including former all-stars Eric Lindros and Keith Primeau. Primeau said himself that the most important change that the NHL could make would be eliminating headshots and developing protocols to protect players. Even Capitals player Mike Knuble said earlier that the league HAS to protect its players by changing how the NHL did things in the past.

So Brooks, I’m sorry, but it appears that your weariness of being treated like babies is going to continue. Because if you think for a second that complaining about the NHL protecting its players is going to change the protocols back to the Wild West NHL of years of the past, then it seems you may have a brain injury yourself.

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About Pete Dombrosky
Pete is a graduate of Penn State University and a life-long Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan. He covered men's hockey, golf, tennis, swimming and the enterprise beat as a reporter at the Daily Collegian, Penn State's award-winning, independent student-operated paper. He currently serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Thrillist Media Group (www.thrillist.com).

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