Rule changes haven’t curbed concussions in the NHL this season

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There are some definite positives when you compare the way the NHL is handling hits to the head this season compared to last. One would think that Matt Cooke surely would have been suspended for that brutal hit on Marc Savard if it took place during this season rather than last, especially when you consider the suspensions handed out in borderline cases such as Joe Thornton’s hit on David Perron.

Teams are also being far more careful with players who are fighting through concussion symptoms, this season especially.

All that being said, we must get to the sobering bad news: TSN passes along a report that the league is still on the same disturbing pace when it comes to players suffering concussions according to Dr. Ruben Echemendia (the NHL’s neuropsychologist).

Echemendia has been studying concussions in the NHL since 1997, noting that there tends to be an average of 75 of those types of head injuries per season, but last season featured a worrisome 84 and this season matches that pace through the same number of games.

That being said, Echemendia didn’t want to be totally negative.

Dr. Ruben Echemendia, the NHL’s neuropsychologist, said Friday that 33 concussions had been reported as of Dec. 1 — the exact same number as a year ago. However, he was quick to note that it doesn’t necessarily mean the rule change hasn’t been ineffective.

“It’s premature,” said Echemendia. “We need to very carefully follow the concussions this year and next year and see to what extent the rule changes have or have not had a change in behaviour. We don’t know exactly what’s causing the concussions to be at the level that they are at this point in time.”

The league has been tracking concussions since 1997 and typically sees about 75 reported each season — roughly half of which are the result of blindside hits.

Rule 48 officially entered the NHL’s rulebook over the summer, giving referees the right to call a minor or major penalty for any “lateral, back pressure or blindside hit” where the principal point of contact is the head. Every call is automatically reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.

It’s unclear what is causing this jump in concussions – or what can really be done to slow them down, aside from changing the very nature of the game – but at least the league is trying to handle them with more finesse. Concussions have been on many of our minds in the last two seasons in particular and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.

Animal activists protest Ducks’ Stoner over grizzly bear hunt

Keith Fialcowitz
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center on Monday night to call for the suspension of Anaheim Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada of illegally obtaining a license to shoot a grizzly bear.

While Ducks fans entered the rink for their home opener against Vancouver, about 20 protesters held signs and shouted slogans condemning Stoner. He faces five charges related to the 2013 hunt on British Columbia’s central coast.

“Killing is not a sport! Play a real sport!” the protesters shouted in unison. “Shame on the Ducks!”

Judie Mancuso, the president of Social Compassion in Legislation, compared Stoner to quarterback Michael Vick and Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, whose killing of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe sparked an international outcry.

“The entire globe is against trophy hunting right now,” Mancuso said. “If most of these hockey fans understood that was the issue, I think most of them would be on our side.”

Wildlife groups and First Nations leaders have been outraged by Stoner’s killing of the bear, named Cheeky. Stoner defended his actions at the time when graphic photos of the kill were publicized, but he hasn’t commented recently.

The protesters were serenaded by chants of Stoner’s name by many fans, while others stopped to look at the signs. Mancuso said her group hopes to raise awareness of Stoner’s legal troubles.

“If people didn’t have outrage with the NFL, Michael Vick would have gotten away with it,” Mancuso said. “The only way that anything is going to happen is if we do this. If there’s not public outcry, nothing is going to happen, so we’ve got to try.”

Stoner grew up on Vancouver Island, but hasn’t lived in the province full-time for several years, which authorities say made him ineligible for the hunting license used to take the bear. He played for the Minnesota Wild at the time of the shooting.

Stoner faces two counts of knowingly making a false statement to obtain a hunting license and one count apiece of hunting without a license, hunting out of season and unlawful possession of dead wildlife. His case is set for Nov. 13 in Vancouver.

The 30-year-old Stoner was in the Ducks’ lineup for their home opener, and he fought Brandon Prust in the opening minutes. Stoner is beginning his sixth full NHL season and his second with Anaheim after signing a four-year, $13 million deal as a free agent before last season.

Related: Ducks d-man Stoner charged with unlawful grizzly bear hunt

NHL on NBCSN: Red Wings face Lightning in ’15 playoff rematch

Steven Stamkos, Henrik Zetterberg
AP Photo

NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Detroit Red Wings host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can stream the game online here.

The Lightning made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, but their journey almost ended in the first round at the hands of the Red Wings. Detroit shutout Tampa Bay twice in that series and the two squads were locked in a scoreless tie until the third period of Game 7.

Despite the fact that the Red Wings were a mere hair away from advancing instead of Tampa Bay, the Lightning are often mentioned as serious Cup contenders while Detroit is typically regarded as a good, but not amazing team. However, that gap isn’t entirely unjustified.

After all, Tampa Bay has a very effective core of forwards that features Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. If the highly regarded Jonathan Drouin, 20, is able to build off of his strong start to the 2015-16 campaign then the Lightning’s offense could be even more dangerous this season.

Detroit certainly has some offensive star power too in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but the duo is 35 and 37 years old respectively. On top of that, injuries have been a recurring issue for Datsyuk, who isn’t expected to make his season debut until November after undergoing ankle surgery.

As good as those two forwards still are, the Red Wings have to hope that their younger players will be able to lead the charge sooner rather than later. The good news is that 19-year-old Dylan Larkin‘s campaign is off to a strong start with three points in two games while 23-year-old Teemu Pulkkinen scored twice on Saturday.

The Red Wings have opened the season with back-to-back wins against Toronto and Carolina, but tonight’s game represents their biggest test to date. Meanwhile, the Lightning are similarly undefeated after three games, but this contest will be particularly trying for them given that it’s their third game in four days.