NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Weighs In On Concussion Discussion

Mark RitterSenior Writer IMarch 15, 2011

BOSTON - OCTOBER 17: 2010 Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL,  speaks during a Celebration of Lester Patrick at TD Garden on October 27, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Whether you are a staunch supporter the game or merely a perimeter fan, one thing has become very clear in today’s NHL—head shots are the main cause of concussions...or are they?

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed concussions today at the NHL general manager meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. From what he was quoted as saying to the media, Bettman appears to be making a good case that (contrary to popular belief) head shots are not the main cause of concussions.

"If there is one thing that is clear, there is no one single thing causing concussions. In fact, the trend as to why concussions happen is different than what a lot of people are suggesting or speculating,” Bettman said.

Bettman’s report revealed that 44 percent of all concussions were the result of legal hits, 26 percent were the result of accidental hits, 17 percent were the result of illegal hits, while a minuscule eight percent were the result of fighting, while five percent were undetermined as the NHL did not have any video to review the incidents in question.

What it means is this: As much as we’d all like to believe that the players are not showing each other a measure of respect on the ice, it appears as if they are, which means it likely means it is the speed of the game and the equipment that is to blame.

The NHL has been under extreme scrutiny for recent non-suspensions which include Zdeno Chara's devastating hit on Max Pacioretty and forward David Steckel's irresponsible hit on forward Sidney Crosby.

Fans, players, general managers, owners, law enforcement agencies and Hall of Fame players (including Mario Lemieux) have all weighed in on the concussion discussions, which left the NHL with little choice but to step up and make significant changes.

In order to help protect the players, Bettman announced that the NHL will implement a five-point plan.

This latest effort from Gary Bettman and the NHL is another step in the right direction for a league that, despite its critics, has long been an industry leader with regards to concussion research.

The five-point plan breaks down as follows:

1. The NHL and NHLPA will work together to help ensure that equipment is not too large, with an emphasis on looking at making things like shoulder and elbow pads smaller without putting players in the position that they would become more vulnerable.

2. Concussion protocol Will be changed so that a player who appears to be exhibiting concussion symptoms will be taken off the ice for a thorough examination by a team doctor. If NHL teams fail or refuse to comply, they will be vulnerable to fines and/or other sanctions, which is to say that the concussion protocol will come with a zero tolerance for non-compliance.

3. Starting next season, NHL clubs will be responsible for those players that are deemed to be repeat offenders with regards to things like head shots, dangerous plays and player safety resulting in suspensions. In this case, the NHL club and perhaps its Head Coaches may be held accountable for a player's actions.

4. The NHL will look to retain a safety engineer to evaluate the playing area (such as stanchions) to see if they can alter those areas so as to afford NHL players more protection. The first step will see the NHL demand that all NHL clubs currently using seamless glass will be asked to switch over to Plexiglass starting next season.

5. A committee will be assembled to address these “issues” on an ongoing basis. This committee will report to the NHL, General Managers, the NHLPA, etc. The team of committee members will include Brendan Shanahan, Joe Nieuwendyk, Rob Blake and Steve Yzerman—all of whom are senior NHL executives and Hall of Fame-quality players.

After a quick review of the five-point plan, it is easy to see that Gary Bettman and the NHL should be applauded for responding to its critics with a very well thought out, detailed plan to protect the players.

Making NHL teams accountable for its players actions is a tremendous step, as is making a off-ice medical evaluation mandatory.

If the NHL should bring back padding as opposed to those hard plastic shoulder and elbow pads we should see a huge reduction in concussions, while the changes to the glass have been long overdue.

The NHL’s five-point plan leaves little for fans and critics to complain about as it is the most comprehensive anti-concussion/player protection plan in any sport.

The NHL’s continued efforts to reduce concussions and protect its players, while not perfect, sends the right message to everyone involved, which is to say that the NHL and its Player’s Association want to protect their most valuable assets—the players.

One piece of equipment Bettman did not mention was the M11 helmet (endorsed by former NHL great Mark Messier), which has been found to significantly reduce head trauma when used by hockey players. It would have been nice to have Bettman grandfather in things like mouth guards and visors as well, but I guess you cannot have everything.

Fresh off the heels of one of the most devastating hockey hits in NHL history, it appears as if the NHL and the NHLPA have had enough of concussions and, for the lack of a better word, are going to “war” against its number one enemy.

It will be interesting to gauge player reaction over the coming weeks. That said, from my chair, the NHL has finally made significant moves with regards to reducing concussions and in my books that’s just what the NHL needed to do—protect the players from themselves.

Until next time,



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