BOSTON (CBS)- Derek Boogaard dead. Rick Rypien gone. Marc Savard out. Sidney Crosby uncertain.
Needless to say, the NHL’s concussion problem has reared its ugly head once again. As the NHLPA faces a litany of criticism from both the media and its fans, several questions beg to be answered.
Is there any solution here? Can hockey truly rid itself of its nagging concussion problem? Unfortunately, the evidence points to a definite no.
In April of 2011, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published its findings in regards to brain injuries in the National Hockey League. The research looked at seven regular seasons from 1997 to 2004. The study was based on physician reports from every team in the league and found a total of 559 concussions during the regular season. That’s 5.8 concussions for every 100 players or 1.8 per 1,000 hours played.
With such daunting numbers, there is little evidence to suggest that hockey’s physical element can simply vanish.
Attempts have been made to reduce such injuries however. Following the league’s poor handling of the Matt Cooke/Marc Savard incident in March of 2010 , a general managers’ meeting was held resulting in the creation of rule 48. The rule states that “A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.” The regulation was recently amended, making all head shots illegal.
It is a step. A good one. But does it truly solve the problem? Does it ultimately reduce hockey’s physicality and limit head injuries?
Simply put, the answer is no. Surprisingly, since the implementation of the rule, the number of concussions in the league has actually increased. Gary Betmann, the league’s commissioner, commented on the matter stating that the injuries were due largely to “inadvertent situations, as most did not involve any contact with the victim’s head by an opponent.”
Inadvertent issues? So players are getting concussed in other ways besides head shots?
Is anyone really surprised? The truth is that a simple rule implementation cannot rid the game of brain injuries. Period. The matter is more complicated than simply limiting head shots. It involves several elements of the game including pads, charging, high sticking, player size, roles, team strategies and so on. The game would need to go through a drastic change for any true prevention to occur. Is anyone really ready for that? Is that something that the fans want or the NHL needs? I’m going to go out on a limb by saying no.
Although steps have been taken to reduce the number of brain injuries, i.e Rule 48, the physical aspect of the game remains. And it will continue to do so for one simple reason; it’s part of hockey.
Completely ridding the problem is as feasible as eliminating hard tackles and blind side hits in football. It just can’t happen. Headshots are part of the problem, but they’re not the entire problem. In order to solve the concussion dilemma, you would have to drastically change the core of what hockey is, which doesn’t seem likely to happen.
The penalties can increase and the injuries can go down, but at the end of the day there will always be a case that demonstrates the true nature of the sport.