Concussion Protocols Need Consistency

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Normally I post a BCHL weekly wrap here on a Monday but I’m taking a break from that for now as I want to focus on another issue that is gaining plenty of attention the past few days, that is the use of the NHL’s concussion spotters and related protocol.

Inevitably a player of the likes of Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid was going to be hauled out of a game by said spotters due to a suspected potential head injury. That’s exactly what we saw Sunday night in Edmonton when McDavid was forced out of the game and into concussion testing after smacking his head on the ice. McDavid was none too happy about being forced into this just as Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t a few weeks ago when he was forced out of the Rangers’ net for the same reason (both were deemed eligible to return). I wouldn’t be happy about it either, especially if I feel no effects, but this is the way things are and should be. Head trauma is the new reality in pro sports and anyone who argues against progressive treatment and protection is simply living with their head in the sand.

I fully support these initiatives but the NHL clearly needs to go further and provide consistency.

For the record, I am not fundamentally opposed to fighting in professional hockey. That is to say two willing combatants that go at it due to the heat of the battle is totally fine with me. I do stand opposed to staged fights on principle, and yes, that includes Erik Gudbranson’s tilt against Toronto’s Matt Martin Saturday night in Vancouver. That was absolutely premeditated but is even more complicated by the incidents that took place in Toronto in early November. The Canucks needed retaliation of some sort and Gudbranson felt by going after Martin it would help accomplish that. Hard to argue that really, and certainly Gudbranson’s teammates appreciated what he did and I would have as well if I were one of them. But it was a staged fight nonetheless and one that probably deserves further punishment, but I digress.

My main question is this: Why will NHL employed concussion spotters pull McDavid or Lundqvist out of a game due to a suspected head injury for act of non aggression but not do the same for pugilists? Take Gudbranson vs Martin once again. Both landed solid blows to the other’s head, enough that caused both of them to drop to a knee. That’s a lot of power for two big boys to throw at the others’ brain. There is zero doubt those blows left a lasting injury. Perhaps it was minor and quickly overcome but just as a punch to the shoulder will leave a bruise, the brain absolutely felt an effect from those blows. So why were neither pulled by said spotters and checked out? Perhaps it has happened this season but I have not seen a case personally where it has. Once a fighter has served his five minute major he should be automatically checked into concussion protocol. Most of the time I would assume they would be allowed to return and that’s totally fine but at least be consistent and show that the league cares about the well being of its players.

Furthermore, if you are inclined to prefer the NHL ban fighting altogether this would be a further deterrent. Not only would a player have to serve his five minute major but he would be unable to return to action until cleared by a medical professional.

As I alluded to earlier, I am not sure where I stand on the state of fighting in the game down the road. I do believe it has its place but should probably be curtailed further. I would like to see the NHL introduce a game misconduct for any staged fight. But most of all, I would like to see the league be consistent and protect its players and its most important product.

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