Head Hits, Concussions Headline NHL's General Manager Meetings

The NHL's GM meetings wrapped up Wednesday in Boca Raton, Fla., and while they talked about many things, the only immediate change is the implementation of the new concussion protocol.

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Spin-O-Rama, Video Review, Coach's Challenge Round Out Day 3 Of NHL GM Meetings

The third and final day of the NHL's general manager meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. was a lot less serious than the previous two, as the focus turned away from the highly emotional and highly critical head shot and concussion debate to a few less pressing, yet still worthy topics.

Among the things the GM's discussed on Wednesday:

- At the top of the agenda was the possibility of expanding video review, most notably to those four-minute, double minor high sticking fouls that are called when a player is forced to bleed his own blood. 

The possibility of an NFL-style coach's challenge has been discussed in the past, like at these meetings a year ago, for example. While there was no support for it then, the Canadian Press reports that there's been some movement on that front and that it could be an option down the line for this sort of thing. 

The balance must be struck on how much the GM's are willing to allow interruptions in the flow of the game, because as we know, hockey is a game based highly on momentum and flow, and much like a coach uses a timeout to stop a tide he feels is negative, a potential challenge could fill that same role.

And which calls do we want to make challenges available on? Leafs GM Brian Burke voiced that concern, as quoted by the CP.

"The whole thing makes me nervous as far as the time of game," said Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. "Review has been a good addition to our league, but I think we have to be careful how far we take it. Too many men on the ice penalties? An icing that was missed 80 seconds before a goal was scored?

"I think we have to go slowly here."

There does seem to be a strong desire to get the call right on the ice, and it's nice hearing that that's the ultimate goal here.

- The other point of discussion on Wednesday was the shootout -- and no, they're not thinking of eliminating it. More specifically, the GM's talked about the "spin-o-rama" move that's come up as an exciting, yet potentially illegal form of dazzling and scoring in the post-overtime contest.

There didn't seem to be any consensus on the issue, but it's definitely something that will be debated until the next time the group meets in June.


NHL Concussion Protocol Changes Go Into Effect Starting Wednesday

The first suggestion from this week's NHL GM meetings will go into effect sooner rather than later. Like, much sooner. 

The new concussion protocol discussed by the GM's over the course of the week and outlined as part of Gary Bettman's "Five Point Plan for Player Safety" will go into effect beginning with Wednesday night's game action. David Poile of the Nashville Predators made the announcement from Boca Raton, Fla. 

The new protocol forces players who have suffered what's suspected to be a concussion during a game to head back to the locker room for 15 minutes while they're checked out by a team doctor. 

League VP of Hockey Ops Colin Campbell admitted that all the details aren't exactly worked out yet -- so yeah, perfect time to implement it, right? As quoted by Yahoo! Sports:

"Yeah, they're still working on the protocol, but it does take effect and the loose ends are being tied up. It's a pretty tough protocol to deal with. What is deemed a concussion? I don't want to go there yet. We're still trying to nail it down." 

There are a lot of questions here.

First off, how is it determined that a player suffered a concussion, or that a player is "suspected" of having suffered a concussion? Who makes the call? What is that call based off of? And how long does it take before a team complains about that call not being fair?

Secondly, since most team's don't take their doctors with them on the road, what happens in the playoffs when the Canucks team doctor tells Joe Thornton of the Sharks he can't finish the game because he has concussion symptoms, and then it turns out that he was fine? That's just a whole mess waiting to happen, isn't it?

It seems as though this protocol is a good step, but that we should be nailing down all of the details and answering all of the questions before actually putting it into effect in a real, live NHL game. 


NHL GM's Show No Support For Blanket Head Hit Rule, Says Commissioner Gary Bettman

Player safety was yet again the focus at Day 2 of the NHL's GM Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. on Tuesday, and the most important news of the day came when Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that there is no support for a rule that would completely ban head shots. 

Bettman looked cool and collected in his white summer shirt, although admittedly he does look a little off when he doesn't have a tie on. You can tell why they have this event in Florida every year, though. In any event, he discussed how the GM's differ when it comes to the topic of head hits.

"There is not support on a widespread basis for a blanket head hit rule," Bettman said, "but we are going to look to see if we can come up with a head hit rule in addition to Rule 48 that focuses on dangerous hits -- hits when a player is vulnerable or engaged with another player and a third player comes in, or where there is excessive force."

Bettman went on about the need for caution in implementing a blanket head hit rule that would supplement Rule 48, which bans blindside hits to the head.  

"We think if you're going to have even more of a head hit rule than we have on Rule 48, we need to do it with more precision and we are going to try to see if we can define something using those factors."

Colin Campbell echoed what Bettman had to say, while also giving a slight jab to fans and media in Montreal who have been livid with the NHL and their discipline process in the aftermath of the League's non-suspension on Zdeno Chara following his hit on Max Pacioretty.    

"Our managers looked at all of the issues that have been hot buttons for the fans and the media this year," Campbell said, "and there's been incidents, as there is every year in certain games that raise the level of intensity in certain markets."

"Our managers looked at the big picture. They are a good group of hockey people with varied experience, but a lot of experience. I think they addressed all of the incidents that sometimes raise more attention than others in the scope of what's good for the game and how we should run things."

Your move, Habs fans. 

Several other issues were covered by the general managers on Tuesday. Including:

- With regards to the Pacioretty hit, Bettman and Campbell continued to stress that the consensus is that the hit was just an unfortunate accident. Instead of focusing on the hit itself, which the League stresses was still a legal one, they need to focus on the "rink environment," a phrase used two days in a row by the Commissioner now.    

"When we polled the managers, overwhelmingly they thought it was a hockey play and a bad, unfortunate, horrific accident," Bettman said. 

- Boarding and charging were given much more focus, as Bettman announced that those types of penalties are up drastically from prior years. 

"Boarding and charging is a focus of attention for us, particularly in terms of seeking stricter enforcement, more aggressive enforcement," Bettman said. "And in that regard, we are going to be looking to articulate a standard, which is consistent with being stricter, more aggressive, in terms of the enforcement -- a standard that the officials and the players can be comfortable with and we'll take out some of the acts that are not being called as boarding or charging and making them penalties and perhaps beyond."

"In that regard, we are also looking at hits and boarding calls or non-calls below the goal line, and we want to look at the force and the distance traveled, particularly in that context, as well.    

In terms of implementation of these new rules, there isn't much of a time line as the League, the NHLPA and the Competition Committee takes the time to review these suggestions from the general managers. Bettman did say that they hope to have more of a concrete handle on things by the time the Board of Governors holds their next meeting during the Stanley Cup Final in June. 


Concussions Lead Agenda At NHL's General Manager Meetings

The NHL's 30 general managers are in Boca Raton, Fla. this week to discuss a multitude of issues. On Monday as the meetings kicked off, the focus was yet again on concussions, as Commissioner Gary Bettman touted the success of Rule 48, implemented a year ago to eliminate blindside hits to the head.

Meredith Qualls of SB Nation's Raw Charge was in Boca Raton for Bettman's press conference, where he talked about the results of a concussion study he teased during his State of the League address at January's All-Star Game.

From the Concussion Study, the data dissects the 80 concussions suffered this year (the 2010-11 season, through March 1) in terms how how they were received.

  • Accidental, 26%. This includes hits from teammates, pucks, tripping, and most significantly, inadvertent collisions between opponents. Notably, the accidental concussion is what Sidney Crosby suffered during the Winter Classic. At 26% for 2010-11, this number has doubled from accidental hits suffered in 2009-10. 
  • Fighting, 8%. 
  • Legal, 44%. This includes hits to the body and hits to the head that do not warrant penalties.
  • Illegal, 17%. Primarily blindside hits to the head, but also includes other prohibited hits to the head and body. Clearly, illegal hits are distinguished from legal hits in that the are punishable, either by penalty or supplemental discipline.

(You'll note too, that the concussion percentages only add up to 95%; four concussions that occurred this season were unaccounted for, because they were discovered after the fact and were not caught on video.)

Bettman also unveiled what the NHL is calling the "Five Point Plan for Player Safety." That plan involves:

  1. Brendan Shanahan will work with the NHLPA on reducing the size, while still keeping the protection, of player equipment. 
  2. The NHL will implement changes to the current in-game concussion protocol, moving from a system where the team trainer gives a quick player test on the bench to a system where the team doctor gives those tests in a quiet room away from the ice. Also, if a player shows and "listed symptoms" of a concussion or if they grab their head following a hit, they will be held out of the game on a mandatory basis.
  3. Supplementary discipline will be considered for teams and coaches that have a what the NHL determines as a "repeat offender" on their roster.
  4. The NHL has hired an engineering firm to inspect the 30 rinks around the league to find areas where safety measures can be enhanced.
  5. Finally, a "blue-ribbon panel" consisting of former players will analyze all of these rule issues, recommend changes and "examine topics relevant to the issue."

It's a nice start, to be sure. Most of all, the NHL has been extremely proactive with their steps around this issue. Certainly they've been reactive as well, with many of these rules finding influence in the Marc Savard, Sidney Crosby and Max Pacioretty incidents of the last year, among others. Still, the NHL seems to be at the fore-front at tackling concussion issues that have plagued all sports, and that should be applauded. 

Let's not pass judgment yet, though. All of this sounds good in theory, but who knows if it'll work on the ice?

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