Sidney Crosby will likely play fewer than a dozen games in the 2011 calendar year
Crosby missed half of the 2010-11 season, the entire 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs and the first quarter of the 2011-12 season after sustaining a concussion last January. Then at some point during last week's game against the Boston Bruins, a hit brought back his post-concussion symptoms.
Sid the Kid had 12 points since returning, highlighting what the league is missing because of one high hit. It is largely thought that he is the reason the NHL got more serious about hits to the head.
He is out indefinitely, and one must wonder if his career is headed down the same path the once-touted Eric Lindros skated. One also must wonder what Lindros might have amounted to if the league had taken these hits seriously then instead of labeling him soft.
Yet for all its perception by fans of other sports as a league of goons, the NHL has definitely taken the lead on this issue.
It took the NFL eight violations to suspend James Harrison for reckless hits to the head. While a single-game NFL suspension represents over six percent of a season, there is no doubt that new discipline czar Brendan Shanahan would have put such a player on the shelf for more than five games several violations ago.
Still, more needs to be done. An examination of the tragedies the game has endured over the past year alone makes the importance of safety clear.
A recent study of the brain of Derek Boogaard showed the cumulative effects of fighting were at least in part responsible for his depression. This is why I called on changes to minimize fighting throughout the league in October.
How should the league address the ongoing concussion problem?
The NHL announced that Claude Giroux is now out with a concussion of his own. While this one was not the result of a suspension-worthy hit to the head but a collision with a teammate, it underscores the need to look at other changes to improve safety.
Some the league could consider include advancements in equipment. New helmet technologies can reduce concussions (Aaron Rodgers has used a new NFL helmet design) and requiring visors can lessen the impact of face-first falls.
Other potential changes include shortening the length of the season to reduce fatigue. Rinks used to be variable size—perhaps larger rinks will open the game up and reduce the number of hits taken.
Hockey's unique combination of speed and physicality is the game's main appeal, so changes should be made cautiously. It is also one of the oldest games in North America, so altering the culture is not going to be easy.
However, losing two of the game's top forwards hurts the game's marketability, too, so a middle ground needs to be found.