Brad Stuart didn't face a suspension hearing for Saturday's big hit on Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. Why not?
Well, at least part of the decision had to do with the fact that Landeskog returned to the game after the hit. No injury = offending player gets off the hook. That's at least how the system appeared to work this time.
To me, it was a dirty hit. It appeared that Landeskog's head was the principal point of contact, even if Stuart didn't leave his feet and even if he tucked his elbow. But Landeskog remained in the game, and that made everybody feel a lot better about the lack of discipline dished out to Stuart.
It shouldn't have. Despite playing 18-plus minutes against San Jose after the hit, Landeskog will not play Monday night. He has a head injury, and given the way he looked after the hit, that should be no surprise.
I was at the game. Landeskog got hit so hard he left his stick on the ice and zombie shuffled to the bench. Missed less than 30s of TOI.— Chemmy (@felixpotvin) January 28, 2013
That Stuart isn't even facing a hearing here deserves ridicule, but the real travesty is that Landeskog was allowed to step back onto the ice.
When you leave that decision ultimately to the player or the coaches, it's almost guaranteed that they're going to do all they can to stay in the game. When it's a team-employed doctor, the pressure is there too, and so much of the process of detecting a concussion relies on the player being honest about his condition anyway.
The NHL claims they're all about player safety and that they take concussions seriously, yet time and time again, we see players returning to action despite very clearly looking out of it. We see players shaking off big hits on the bench without much, if any, evaluation from a team trainer or physician. Landeskog is just the latest example.
Last year, (at least) two NHL players hid concussions from their teams. Colby Armstrong did it with the Maple Leafs, fearing that if he missed a lengthy amount of time, he'd be labeled as an injury-prone player and teams wouldn't be willing to take the risk on him in free agency.
Then, Flyers defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon admitted that he hid a concussion in order to keep his spot on the NHL roster. Bourdon still suffers from concussion symptoms to this day and has only played in 17 games with the AHL's Adirondack Phantoms this season.
Landeskog didn't hide his concussion, as far as we know. It's hard to hide a concussion when you're wobbling across the ice after a big hit. But it is just the latest example of how NHL teams *and* NHL players don't really care about concussions and player safety.
It doesn't matter if that player is a legitimate star like Landeskog or if the player is a fringe defenseman like Bourdon. It doesn't matter if a big hit caused the injury or a subtle graze. It doesn't matter if the player leaves the ice and goes to the so-called "Quiet Room" for observation or if he's allowed to stay on the bench and hop out for the next shift.
In any case, the current protocol is not enough to make sure that player isn't skating around the ice, vulnerable with a brain injury. How can we fix the problem? Backhand Shelf's Jo Innes had one suggestion:
So what if the league paid a doc to be at every game and THAT is who was responsible for determining if someone needs a concussion exam?— Jo Innes (@JoNana) January 28, 2013
No filtering through the trainer. No pressure from team or player. A league doc wouldn’t be worried about pulling a team’s star. No stake.— Jo Innes (@JoNana) January 28, 2013
Control needs to be completely taken out of the hands of people who have a stake in the team, whether that's a player, the coaching staff or team-employed doctors. Concussions are complicated injuries and mistakes will happen, but this would be a fantastic first step. What we're doing now just isn't good enough.