In Florida this week the NHL General Managers are having their meetings to discuss the state of the game. There was little doubt that concussions and player safety were going to be at the forefront of the discussions and so NHL Commissioner attempted to get out in front of that with his new five point plan to attempt to reduce concussions in the league. The full plan can be found at NHL.com
The bullet point version of the plan is: Shanahan is in charge of equipment; players with any concussion symptoms are benched ad must see doctor who will administer testing; teams and their coaches can be held accountable for repeat offenders; evaluation of each arena to see how to improve safety conditions; finally a blue ribbon panel comprised of ex-players with Shanahan, Rob Blake, Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk named.
The entire plan seems to be more of damage control than real reform other than the second point which I want to discuss in more detail.
The NHL Protocol for Concussion Evaluation and Management has been revised in three areas: 1) Mandatory removal from play if a player reports any listed symptoms or shows any listed signs (loss of consciousness ... Motor incoordination/balance problems ... Slow to get up following a hit to the head ... blank or vacant look ... Disorientation (unsure where he is) ... Clutching the head after a hit ... Visible facial injury in coombination with any of the above). 2) Examination by the team physician (as opposed to the athletic trainer) in a quiet place free from distraction. 3) Team physician is to use 'an acute evaluation tool' such as the NHL SCAT 2 [SCAT stands for Sports Concussion Assessment Tool] as opposed to a quick rinkside assessment.
This is the best step the plan takes, but still had the feel of a reactive measure that brings the NHL closer to where the NFL is on concussions. There is no reason that a doctor should not be the one conducting these types of evaluations already and that no neurological testing is required for a player to return to action is asking for players to say they are fine and attempt to play through it.
Obviously changes have to be made to help eliminate concussions, but the idea that this is a magnanimous gesture or proactive on the part of the NHL is a farce. The NHL is doing this because it’s best and most promoted player Sidney Crosby missed months of action along with the fallout from the Max PAcioretty injury in which Canadian sponsors hypocritically threatened to end their relationships with the NHL if more was not done. This might be a step in the right direction, but the reasons behind it are as much financial as for player health.