By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 12:11 AM
RALEIGH, N.C. - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday that preliminary results from a study conducted by the league and the players' union show an increase in concussions this season, but that most of them were the result of accidental contact.
The debate over whether the NHL is doing enough to protect players from head injuries has increased since Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby suffered a concussion early this month that forced him to miss All-Star Weekend.
"The increase in concussions appears to be in the area of accidental or inadvertent situations, as most do not involve any contact whatsoever with the victim's head by an opponent," Bettman said. "We've seen players suffer concussions this season when they've stumbled into the boards. . . . We've seen players suffer concussions when struck by pucks to the head, we've seen players concussed when they collide with teammates."
Bettman said there has been a decrease in concussions caused by blind-side collisions since such hits were banned by the league before this season, as well as a drop in head injuries stemming from legal hits. There has, however, been an increase in concussions resulting from fights.
Protecting players without altering the sport's physical nature will likely be a main topic of concern when the NHL's general managers meet in March, but Bettman said that the possible implementation of any additional rule must be carefully weighed. Bettman added that banning all hits isn't as easy of a solution as it seems.
"Concussions from legal hits are down and concussions from blind-side hits are down, as a preliminary trend," Bettman said. "You have to question why a rule that deals with hits to the head would make sense if that's not what's causing the concussions."
Ovechkin keeps the crown
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin won the breakaway challenge during the all-star skills competition Saturday night at RBC Center. He has won all three years the league has held the event, in which fans vote for the most creative breakaway move. Ovechkin directed the puck down the ice with the butt end of the stick before turning it right-side-up and shooting.
Ovechkin and Capitals teammate Mike Green were stopped in the shootout competition by the Boston Bruins' Tim Thomas and Anaheim Ducks' Jonas Hiller, respectively.
Boston's Zdeno Chara won the hardest shot competition for the fourth straight year, this time with a record of 105.9 mph, while New York Islanders rookie Michael Grabner won the fastest skater competition.
Green and Ovechkin's Team Staal defeated Team Lidstrom in the competition, 33-22.
Caps unsure on Europe
The Capitals are waiting to decide whether they will open next season in Europe, General Manager George McPhee said.
Washington is one of six teams - along with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks - invited to take part in what would be the fifth time the NHL has kicked off its regular season overseas. No team has formally accepted.
"It's still a work in progress," McPhee said. "Sometime in the next two or three weeks, though, we should have some answers as to whether it's something we'll participate in."
Russia and Sweden have been rumored as possible destinations but it's unclear how many cities the NHL wants to host the games. In 2010, six teams played in three European cities.
McPhee has previously expressed hesitation with the event, particularly about the additional travel, but on Saturday he seemed to take a softer stance.
"That's always a concern," McPhee said about the scheduling. "But the league has learned over the past four years how to integrate teams into the schedule, when we would come back. We're not as concerned about it as we've been, but we just want to make sure if we do this that it's the best possible place to play our games."