Gary Bettman introduces five-point plan to prevent, identify concussions; PHT dissects it

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As you may already know, the NHL’s GM meetings began today amid plenty of controversy regarding hits to the head and concussions. From Sidney Crosby’s regrettable absence to the much-debated Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty, the league had to do something.

It looks like Gary Bettman and other NHL executives have a plan … a five-point plan, to be exact. The five different points cover a wide array of issues that factor into concussion problems, from equipment size, to how affected players are treated and – in an obvious nod to Montreal’s infamous stanchion – even how rinks are constructed.

Before we break down Bettman’s plan in a point-by-point fashion, it’s important to note that the NHLPA released a statement in favor of many of Bettman’s ideas. For this to work, it’s vital that the league and its players association stay on the same page, so that’s as good a sign as any.

Anyway, let’s start with point one.

1. Brendan Shanahan has been directed to focus on equipment, in conjunction with the Players’ Association, in an effort to reduce the size of the equipment without reducing its protectiveness but also without compromising the safety of an opponent who is contacted by that equipment.

You would think that the advances in sporting equipment would reduce injuries, but the problem with borderline body armor in athletics is that such protection almost encourages players to be reckless. One of the disturbing findings in Malcolm Gladwell’s game-changing study of NFL concussions was that football players almost use their helmets as weapons rather than for mere protection. In hockey, shoulder pads are often the equivalent of helmets in football in that way, so making that gear less dangerous to other players – while still providing NHLers protection during board battles and collisions – is a great idea.

Of course, finding a good, happy medium might prove difficult.

This issue didn’t directly address Mark Messier’s campaign to change helmets, possibly because there might still be a need to prove that those designs (or something similar) actually do reduce risks.

2. The NHL Protocol for Concussion Evaluation and Management has been revised in three areas: 1) Mandatory removal from play if a player reports any listed symptoms or shows any listed signs (loss of consciousness … Motor incoordination/balance problems … Slow to get up following a hit to the head … blank or vacant look … Disorientation (unsure where he is) … Clutching the head after a hit … Visible facial injury in coombination with any of the above). 2) Examination by the team physician (as opposed to the athletic trainer) in a quiet place free from distraction. 3) Team physician is to use ‘an acute evaluation tool’ such as the NHL SCAT 2 [SCAT stands for Sports Concussion Assessment Tool] as opposed to a quick rinkside assessment.

In my mind, point No. 2 is probably more important than the other concerns combined. To some, it might be stunning that these measures haven’t already been instituted, but they’re better late than never. Considering the undercurrent of thought – fair or not – that maybe the Pittsburgh Penguins erred when they didn’t sit Sidney Crosby after he took that David Steckel hit, these alterations will help teams identify concussions in a more scientific way. This measure takes the decision away from a player or trainer who might want to get a then-unclear concussion victim back on the ice.

After all, when it comes to concussion recovery, it’s not like you can just apply an ice pack or “rub some dirt on it.”

3. The Board will be approached to elevate the standard in which a Club and its Coach can be held accountable if it has a number of ‘repeat offenders’ with regard to Supplementary Discipline.

It’s probably overly simplistic to pin this all on that outrageous New York Islanders-Penguins fight frenzy, but such a rule will likely give the league more power to punish teams for carting out guys like Trevor Gillies to create havoc without any regard for their actual on-ice ability. Chance are, the Matt Cookes of the world will also be affected.

(Mario Lemieux wrote a letter to the league that gives more instructive ideas regarding how the league should handle these situations. We’ll get to that in another post.)

4. In the continuing pursuit of the ultimate in player safety with regard to the rink environment, a safety engineering firm will be used to evaluate all 30 arenas and determine what changes, if any, can and should be made to to enhance the safety of the environment. For the 2011-12 season, the teams that have seamless glass behind the nets, on the sides, or surrounding the entire rink will be directed to change to plexiglass.

Translation: teams will be forced to remove “turnbuckles” or stanchions if at all possible. If nothing else, maybe the league can make them less dangerous to players. (Even if such a measure might make it unsafe for Pierre McGuire and other pundits to stand between players’ benches, which would be a bummer since those segments often provide great insight.)

Getting rid of the seamless glass is almost a no-brainer. That’s a much easier and more obvious fix than handling the stanchions, but both are good changes.

5. A ‘blue-ribbon’ committee of Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk — all players who competed under the standard of rules enforcement that has been in place since 2005 — to examine topics relevant to the issue.

It’s a bit odd that Blake is on the committee since giving Peter Mueller a concussion was one of the last things he did before retiring from the NHL, but the “blue-ribbon committee” is a good idea overall. Especially if they make their finds public and encourage open communication regarding this tough issue.

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Time will tell if these changes make a big difference, but it’s a much better way of attacking the problem than instituting Rule 48. These measures should eliminate some of the guesswork and gut reactions that come from identifying concussions, a crucial change considering the fact that repeated hits only increase the odds of greater problems.

It will be tough to stop concussions from happening altogether, but this plan has some promise in at least reducing them a bit.

Hossa undergoes ‘independent medical evaluation’ to determine if he’s eligible for LTIR

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Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks announced in June that the 38-year-old forward will miss the entire 2017-18 season with a skin disorder.

However, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Hockey League has yet to determine if Hossa will be eligible for long-term injured reserve.

“Marian Hossa underwent an independent medical evaluation several days ago,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘We are waiting for the report. Once we have that, we should be in a position to determine his proper status.’’

Hossa’s total salary is only $1 million for this year. His cap hit remains at $5.275 million.

From CSN Chicago:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

While there are salary cap implications for Chicago with Hossa’s absence, not having him in the Blackhawks lineup is a difficult loss. Yes, he’s approaching 40 years of age, with more than 1,300 NHL regular season games under his belt. But last season, he also posted 26 goals and 45 points — still very productive at his age.

It was reported, prior to the Blackhawks announcing that Hossa had this skin condition, that there was a “legitimate possibility” Hossa had played his last NHL game.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy