NHL Commentary: Head Injuries to Become Important Collective Bargaining Topic

Andrew HirshContributor IIFebruary 13, 2012

The Minnesota Wild pay tribute to Derek Boogaard, who lost his life this summer. He was 28.
The Minnesota Wild pay tribute to Derek Boogaard, who lost his life this summer. He was 28.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Every once in a while, we're reminded that sports are nothing more than a form of entertainment. 

For the hockey world, this past summer was one of those times. 

In addition to the Yaroslavl plane crash that killed all but one member of the Lokomotiv KHL team on board, we lost Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien. 

There has also been a major issue with current concussion victims (i.e. Sidney Crosby), that have brought head injuries into the spotlight, at times overshadowing the game itself. 

But there is good news. With the collective bargaining agreement between the Players Association and the National Hockey League set to expire in September, Gary Bettman and Co. have an opportunity to fix this epidemic and prevent future tragedies from ever occurring.

"I think there's definitely more of an openness to discuss (ways to reduce concussions)," said David Morehouse, President and CEO of the Penguins, during the All-Star break. "It was not a popular thing to talk about a couple years ago. I think there are definitely more pragmatic views on how we should try to reduce and move toward eliminating these injuries."

In its current state, the NHL puts the players at a higher risk than it should, as seen by the obscene number of injuries in recent years and the harrowing long-term results they create. Changing this trend needs to be the top priority of this summer's CBA negotiations. 

For starters, Bettman could take a page out of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's book, who recently added certified athletic trainers to work every football game in order to monitor head injuries. This would undoubtedly go a long way towards improving player health—just imagine where Sidney Crosby would be today if he was told to rest after his initial concussion. 

In addition to improved treatment, the rule book can (and should) be altered. We're moving in the right direction with the strict enforcement of rule 48—which has made hits to the head illegal—but it's not strict enough. Currently there are no provisions to allow referees to call a major or game misconduct penalty on an illegal strike to the head; all they can do is call a two-minute minor. 

And while Brendan Shanahan has led the charge in increasing the number of suspensions due to illegal hits, he hasn't had the impact many had hoped. If players faced more severe in-game repercussions for illegal hits, we would certainly see less of them occur. 

Jarome Iginla, one of the most high profile players in the world, believes changes can be made to improve player safety.

"Because the game is quicker, one way to cut back on that risk is limiting hits to the head," Jarome Iginla added, during the same All-Star festivities. "When I broke in (to the NHL), it was almost a way of hitting. You just finished your check, and you didn't think so much about whether it was a head or a shoulder.

"I think we will catch on as players, as we have caught on to some of the other rules."