Recently, the NHL has been dealing with the major issues surrounding concussions. It seems that everyday fans are hearing more bad news about some of their favorite players. Numerous all-star game starters have been benched due to their poor head-health. There was even an article written on yahoo sports about an “all-concussion team” and how they would be a solid group of players.
Hockey has always been a rough game. Players are tough and hits are hard. But, concussions seem to be getting more common and increasingly serious. Captains Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins have both been out of commission with post-concussion symptoms for a period of months. Their returns have no definite time-table and fans are beginning to worry if it means the end of these iconic players’ careers.
Fans also seem to be worried that by changing too much in the game (and making concussions more avoidable), the integrity and fast-paced nature of the play would be lost. There is a line to be drawn; when is it okay to slow down the game or change it in order to keep players safe? The league has already ruled that all boards need to be made out of plexi-glass which has started to soften the impact of hits. But is plexi-glass soft enough? Where on the ice are the majority of detrimental hits happening? Is it into the walls, the ice, or the plexi glass? These are things the NHL should look at. Wherever the biggest danger is, they need to start there.
Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, has come out and sighted new concussion baselines and measures (which were seen on HBO’s 24/7) as something the NHL has improved on. But their new boards and baseline checks are not efficient enough. Concussions are still a major problem that both teams and fans are starting to notice. When the best players in the NHL are sidelined with head-injuries and past enforcers are starting to die from prolonged damage to their brains, drastic measures need to be taken to change the NHL.
So the question is what more can be done? Well the NHL has already changed the plexi-glass, created a department of player safety (I am sure you have all seen those Brendan Shanahan explanation videos), and apparently softer elbow and shoulder padding is in the works. I think if the NHL continues to make the ice a safer place for head-injuries eventually they will slow. I just hope the league can make these changes quickly enough that there are no more major career-threatening injuries and nothing that will destroy the feel of the game.
All and all, the NHL shouldn’t stop fighting in the league and shouldn’t turn the boards into memory foam. The league does need to make softer padding, enforceable punishments for illegal hits, and players need to be educated about how to deal with concussions properly and avoid hits that could cause them. Maybe the best way to avoid concussions is to make a larger playing area. With more space on the ice, players might have more room to play the game and skate rather than get locked up on the boards. Why hasn’t the NHL tested something like that?