Tag: five-point plan

Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman’s new concussion protocols make NHL GMs upset

Despite the fact that the changes were announced during last week’s GM meetings, Gary Bettman apparently didn’t poll the league’s 30 general managers regarding changes to concussion diagnosis and protocol, according to Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun.

From the sound of things, some GMs are pretty upset with the changes Bettman enacted regarding how teams diagnose concussions. They have an especially big problem with the provision that forces a player who might have been concussed to meet with a doctor instead of a trainer during a 15-minute process.

A few general managers anonymously spoke with Francis about their issues with the changes Bettman made. They were upset by the fact that the league’s commissioner didn’t clear the changes with them and pointed to “the unreasonableness” of the new protocol.

“I have no problem treating these things cautiously but this is an overreaction, a knee-jerk reaction,” said the GM, insisting at least a third of the GMs agree with him and will make their feelings known to the league.

“We weren’t allowed to vote or discuss it. I was in the bar with about 10 other guys afterwards and they were all grumbling about it. I’m not opposed to beefing up the protocol but we know it doesn’t take 15 minutes and that’s my biggest concern. There’s a right way and a wrong way. This is what doctors told the league is best to do but we’re the ones to have to put the thing in practice and it doesn’t make sense.”

With an eye on identifying and managing the increasing number of concussions the NHL has seen this year, Bettman instituted the directive at last week’s GM meetings as part of a five-point plan to improve player safety. As part of the concussion protocol, the NHL commissioner took the power away from trainers who have typically tended to banged up players and put it squarely in the hands of the game’s host physician. Some have worried host doctors could either take their time getting down to see a visiting player or err too much on the side of caution to deprive a visiting team its star player.

“We don’t worry about a doctor’s ethical stance — they have way too much integrity for that,” said the GM, who requested anonymity for obvious reasons.

“I’m worried about how much time it takes. Maybe a doctor is dealing with another player at the time. Why 15 minutes and why is it out of the trainer’s hands? What about a guy like (Milan) Lucic who gets drilled and is always slow to get up but is never hurt? Does he sit for 15? We have to sit down and talk about it with the league and the doctors in the room at the draft this June.”

Considering the fact that a substantial chunk of the league’s teams at least have a shot at earning a playoff spot despite the fact that there’s less than a month left in this season, it’s clear that every game counts. That means that pulling a player out of a game prematurely could impact teams who need every win and every point they can get.

Francis reveals that some teams are so concerned with the timeliness and availability of opposing teams’ doctors that they might try to get their own team doctors to accompany clubs on road trips. Such a measure could be costly and also complicated because there might be markets where an out-of-state doctor might not be licensed to practice medicine, Francis explains.

In other words, there might be some considerable growing pains from these changes. It’s surprising that Bettman would make a choice that is reportedly so unpopular among GMs, since that seems like the one group of people the controversial commish manages to please through thick and thin.

That being said, in a climate where concussion consciousness is at a new height, maybe it’s better to overreact rather than ignoring a growing problem. Personally, I prefer an overreaction to an oblivious shrug.

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

Gary Bettman
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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.


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.