Concussions: New rules for treating NHL players

The Associated Press
Monday, March 14, 2011; 8:38 PM

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Accidental concussions in the NHL have doubled since last season, and general managers are looking at ways to slow the game.

The GMs began three days of meetings Monday with head injuries leading the agenda. Following the first session, Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league will adopt a more rigorous protocol for examining players with possible concussions.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr released a statement in support of the changes.

"We are confident that the protocol will be properly implemented across the NHL by each of its member clubs," Fehr said. "This is a significant step to improve player safety, and concussion protocol is an area where we will continue to work with the league, through the joint NHL/NHLPA Concussion Working Group."

Other changes are likely. The speed of the sport has long been a big attraction, but a rise in concussions and two recent high-profile cases have created pressure to revise the rules.

"We will look at a lot of areas," Montreal's Pierre Gauthier said. "There's a definite will to improve the situation and make the game safer."

The Canadiens' Max Pacioretty sustained a severe concussion last week, and Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby practiced Monday for the first time since being sidelined in early January because of a concussion. Such injuries have left fans unhappy, and sponsor Air Canada threatened to withdraw its support.

As a result, GMs are thinking about applying the brakes.

"It's kind of odd that we're talking about rules to slow things down," Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "Players are bigger athletes. They're faster and stronger. The equipment is designed to shoot the puck harder and faster. But now we're going the other way and looking at, 'OK, how do we make it slower?'"

Other possible changes include a ban on head shots. But Crosby noted such a rule might be difficult to implement.

"There are times when there is going to be accidental contact, and how do you deal with that?" he said. "If someone targets the head, then yeah, I think that should be banned. ... It's whether or not it's intentional. Sometimes that's tough to really know when you're talking about a fast game like hockey."

Blindside hits to the head were banned last year. As a result, only one concussion this season was caused by a blindside hit, compared with four a year ago.

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