NHL: 5 Ways the League and Its Players Can Reduce Concussion Injuries

Jacob Born@@Jacob_BornContributor IIIJanuary 18, 2012

NHL: 5 Ways the League and Its Players Can Reduce Concussion Injuries

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    David Perron. Marc Savard. Jeff Skinner. Sidney Crosby.

    These are just a few players that have recently been diagnosed with or recovered from concussions.

    Perron suffered a concussion last season and made his debut this season after sitting out for over a year. Skinner sat out just a couple of weeks because of his concussion.

    However, some are not so lucky. Savard, a beloved Bruin, had to end his career because of concussions. Crosby has played a mere eight games since Jan. 1, 2011.

    Concussions are taking their toll on the NHL.

    Brendan Shanahan has tried to lower the number of concussions by having stricter punishments for hits to the head and other illegal plays that are a big cause of concussions. "Shanaban," as he has come to be known, has dealt considerably more suspensions by the season's midpoint than Colin Campbell did last season.

    But, if the NHL wants to see its numbers drop even more, then its coaches and players should follow through on these five ideas. 

Mandatory Mouth Guards

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    This is a rule that I am appalled that the NHL does not have in place. While mouth guards are utilized to protect the teeth on an NHL player, most people can easily see that players don't mind if they have teeth or not. 

    But, a mouth guard also can prevent a concussion.

    A concussion is when the brain becomes bruised as a result of it hitting the skull at high speeds.

    The gel in the mouth guard will cushion the teeth when a player is hit hard or hits his head on the ice. This cushion slows the speed at which the teeth come in contact with each other, which, in turn, slows the speed that the brain is moving. 

    By mandating the use of mouth guards, players will not only protect their brains, but also their teeth.

    It's a win-win.

Hitting Coaches

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    In youth hockey when players reach the age of hitting, they are taught the correct way to hit players. The same needs to happen in the NHL.

    All to often, enforcers go for the big hit, but don't care how they hit the player. They want the player to go down to the ice because that's what the fans came to see—big hits and big goals.

    A hitting coach will be able to teach the enforcers a more controlled way to hit, a way that will still benefit the team and won't result in suspension by Shanaban. 

    Hitting coaches can coach the players to hit each other in the chest rather than the head. After all, those are the hits that send the players flying and the ones the fans want to see—not when a player needs to be carted off because of an irresponsible hit. 

Major Penalty for Hits to the Head

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    This rule change could be the best deterrent against concussions.  

    Currently, a hit to the head constitutes a minor penalty. I'm calling for a rule change to make it a five-minute penalty.

    Imagine this.

    Matt Cooke (or another enforcer) comes in and hits Phil Kessel (or any another player) in the head. Automatic five minutes in the box.

    Then, Dion Phaneuf comes in and challenges Cooke to a fight. The two fight and then are sent to the box. Cooke would then get a five-minute major for fighting and a major for head contact.

    The Pens are forced to send another person to the box to serve his major penalty. So now, the Pens are down two players because of Cooke's illegal hit.

    Coaches are going to teach their players how to properly hit for fear of being down two men. Players are going to take responsibility for their hits for fear of being a factor in their team losing. 

    The game will still retain its physicality, but the players will respect one another.

Keep Your Head Up

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    The enforcers are not the only ones that need to take responsibility for themselves. Forwards need to skate with their heads up.

    There are too many times to count when a forward is too busy looking down at the puck trying to stick-handle, and then they get lit up by an opponent. The opponent did nothing wrong; it was a good, clean hit. But, because the forward wasn't paying attention, he gets injured. 

    Forwards that keep their heads up are the ones that make the best plays. They see the ice, they can make passes, and they can make moves around the defense to get in on the goalie. The forwards that keep their heads down are the ones that end up with concussions. 

Softer Pads

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    This change is probably the least likely to occur due to the amount of brands that are on the market today.

    The first concern is helmets, as this is the biggest form of protection the head has. The best-case scenario would be to have plastic that is better at distributing the force that comes with the head hitting a player or the ice. The next would be the padding inside. Helmets need to have constant padding, not just areas of padding. 

    For example, the helmet I have has padding at the top, front, back and ears of the helmet. The padding, though, is lacking on the top-right, top-left and temple areas. Those areas need to be protected as well.

    Another way would be to make the shoulder and elbow pads more padded on the outside. While this would create more cushion for the player on the receiving end, the player on the giving end actually would have less padding. The hard pads are meant to protect him, not protect what he is hitting the pad against.