NHL concussion rate not helped by rule changes, according to study

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

The NHL's attempts to diminish concussions has not worked, according to an independent study.

Head trauma prevention has established a significant role in modern professional sports. Regardless of competition, the majority of professional organizations and their membership clubs have taken progressive measures to help diminish the amount of head related injuries incurred by participants in games.

In the NHL, Rule 48 was established as a measure to eliminate hits aimed at the head, as well as blindside collisions. The hope was to cut down on concussions. The reality is it failed to do so, at least according to an independent study released Wednesday.

Dr. Michael Cusimano is the senior author of the report that found concussion rates in the NHL have not decreased since the enforcement of Rule 48 in the 2010-11 season. Analysis for the study included reports on concussions and suspected concussions that occurred in the 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 NHL seasons. In addition, the study included similar data collected from the Ontario Hockey League.

Based upon the results, the researchers determined that the inclusion of Rule 48 did not alter the amount of concussions sustained per season. The researchers determined that 5.23 concussions are averaged per 100 games in the NHL regular season. Despite stiffer penalties in the OHL, the rate was similar with 5.05 concussions per 100 games.

In addition, the study determined that the hits profiled under Rule 48 weren't the primary cause of concussions, via the Canadian Press:

About 28 per cent of interactions produced a concussion also generated a penalty call, said Cusimano. In that 28 per cent, the bulk of the penalties were for fighting. "And blindsiding, which was what the rule was initially was written about, was only 4.1 per cent of all those.... But four per cent of 28 per cent is a very small number."

Cusimano explains that part of the issue is the rule is written in a manner that allows officials to make judgement calls, specifically in instances when players have "put themselves in a vulnerable position." This has led Cusimano to recommend a re-evaluation of the rule, as well as stiffer penalties in instances of concussions.

The researcher states that an "eye for an eye" mentality might help with the issue.

"If there were more severe consequences to those who inflict that kind of injury -- let's say that player was out for an equal amount of time as Crosby -- that might have more impact," he said.

However, that measure seems to be ideal in nature, flawed in practice. Realistically, the NHLPA probably wouldn't come close to accepting such a concept.

The NHL and NHLPA have not released comment on the study at the time of this writing.

Concussion prevention has become the million-dollar question. Everyone has an idea how to answer it, but no one has an effective measure that actually works on a practical level. Ultimately, all the professional sports leagues need to continue researching the causes of head trauma. The more information that is collected about what does/does not cause concussions will aide in isolating what components of the games can be altered without diluting the essence of the competition.

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