NHL’s new concussion protocol goes into effect tonight and what that means from here on out

During this week’s GM meetings in Florida we’ve been keeping tabs on what the NHL is looking to do to help remedy the rash of concussions and head injuries in the league. Gary Bettman proposed a five point plan for teams to do their part to help treat players during the game and potentially save them the trouble of being injured further when no symptoms are apparent.

Today we learn from Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika (via Predators GM David Poile) that the new treatment protocol will go into effect beginning with tonight’s games across the league. That means if a player has suffered an apparent concussion or head injury they must go back to the locker room and be treated by a doctor to see if they have, indeed, suffered a concussion.

It’s a forward step for the league in trying to do something about an issue that’s been plaguing the league for various different reasons the last few seasons. Without a doubt the speed of the game is causing problems and there’s not much the league can do about that without relaxing the rules on obstruction and threatening the return of the dead puck era.

The one thing they can control is the medical treatment side of things and that’s what they’ve zeroed in on. Being more efficient with such matters would help. After all, we saw both Ian Laperriere and Marc Savard return relatively quickly during the playoffs from brutal concussions. Savard suffered his hit in March and returned for the Bruins series against Philadelphia. He admitted after the season was over that he may have come back too soon.

Laperriere was struck in the face with a slap shot during the Flyers opening round series against New Jersey yet still found a way to return to action in the Stanley Cup final. Laperriere also admitted to coming back too soon and won’t play at all this season thanks to lingering post-concussion syndrome effects.

Of course, if the NHL wants things to be taken serious they need to be firm about what they’re doing. So many of the NHL’s new rules and regulations are often enforced right away and for a year or two and then seemingly forgotten about. The Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika wrote a scathing piece today reminding us about how the league can let things slip away in the wake of making a big stand (subscription required). Brad Richards in particular comes into focus after dealing with a concussion suffered thanks to a Sami Pahlsson elbow.

And that is at the heart of Richards’ issue right now. If you and I can readily see a replay of an incident that should not be in hockey, then why isn’t something being done about it? Richards’ experience is personal, and it can come off as whining a bit because really nobody did a thing about it. He was hit in the jaw by an elbow on what appeared to be an innocuous play at the end of a game. Richards understands that officials wouldn’t have seen it. He understands that “things happen.”

What he doesn’t understand is how the man who threw that elbow — Columbus center Sami Pahlsson — didn’t at least get a memo from the league complete with a video of the incident sent to his I-phone saying it was wrong. There are rules against those kinds of hits. So …. shouldn’t something have been done about it?

Now, there are penalties missed in every game. There’s no way to call games at top speed and expect to get everything right. But we’re not worried about the outcome of a game here, we’re worried about the health of a league. To understand Richards’ situation, you have to understand where he has been for the past month.

Richards is right and the NHL can be better in handling these things. They can certainly be better about handling punishment and keeping things shrouded in secrecy does no one any favors. Of course, the league seems to always operate in secrecy in hopes that sometimes things will resolve themselves and go away.

In 2003 the NHL was going to take a major stand on diving and punish those busted for diving in games. Similar hot button topic decrees have come and gone by the wayside. We’ve seen obstruction find its way back into the game now since the lockout after seeing it called repeatedly for the two years following that. Being cynical about how the NHL is handling this issue is warranted as they’ve never really shown the ability to hold strong to such matters in the past. Don’t get us started about the NHL’s ability to punish players in a manner that makes sense.

On the positive side of things, if the NHL can adapt to this and make it work it’s a win over the long haul. There’s going to be bumps in the road to start and there’s surely going to be further controversy. Just wait until a star player has to sit out a crucial point of the game for 15 minutes while he’s treated and examined further and the head coach seethes over not being able to have him on the ice. Hopefully that won’t happen and players will be able to avoid more problems, but with how things have gone this season don’t bet on it.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

Brandon Sutter, Cam Talbot
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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado

Detroit waives Cleary

Daniel Cleary
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Dan Cleary‘s time as a Red Wing could soon be over.

Detroit placed the veteran forward on waivers Wednesday afternoon, per TSN. The move comes after Cleary signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $950,000 just weeks before training camp, then proceeded to play in four of Detroit’s exhibition contests, scoring two points.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens now.

At 36, Cleary doesn’t have much left in the tank and is coming off a year in which he played just 17 games. But as we noted back in the summer, this seems to all be part of a larger plan.

From the Free Press:

A situation that bears the handprint of former coach Mike Babcock has put the Wings in the position of being honor-bound to keep Cleary, 36, aboard, even as he is coming off a season that saw him play just 17 games, producing two points.

This debacle began two years ago. The Wings had offered Cleary a three-year, $6.25-million contract before he became unrestricted July 1. He declined. The Wings then signed Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, leaving little space under the salary cap. Then Cleary didn’t sign with anyone. September rolled around. The Flyers offered Cleary a three-year deal for $8.25 million, but Cleary then decided he wanted to stay in Detroit.

He ended up flying to Traverse City, where the Wings already had begun training camp. He met in a hangar with Holland and Babcock. Holland pointed to a near maxed-out budget. Babcock pushed hard for Cleary to be signed. What resulted was a one-year, $1.75-million deal with the understanding the Wings would take into consideration what Cleary left on the Flyers table.

After playing out that $1.75 million deal, Cleary re-signed in Detroit last summer to a one-year, $1.5 million pact — so, essentially, the Wings are now in final year of an unspoken three-year agreement that’s (sorta) aimed at repaying what got left on the table in Philly.

Got all that?

If Cleary gets through waivers, the Wings could send him to AHL Grand Rapids. Since he signed a one-way deal, he’d get his money regardless.

There’s also the option of Babcock and the Leafs claiming Cleary off waivers — a scenario that, as unlikely as it sounds, has already made the rounds on social media.