Several former players are giving the NHL barely a passing grade for its new concussion protocol and how it’s working so far in the playoffs.
With the game’s best player, Sidney Crosby, out with a concussion for months, the issue has been front and centre this year.
Two months ago, the league said it would more strictly enforce penalties when it comes to head hits – and supplementary discipline to try to reduce headshots.
The league also announced the new protocol. It requires any player suspected of having a concussion to go immediately to a quiet room for 15 minutes to be assessed by the team doctor.
But in the middle of the playoffs, several former players point to a couple of controversial hits as evidence the league isn’t living up to its promises.
Exhibit A: Vancouver’s Raffi Torres’ punishing hit on an unsuspecting Brent Seabrook of Chicago in Round 1.
What happened after, the former players say, is the exact opposite of what is supposed to take place.
The victim (Seabrook) continued playing and didn’t even go to the quiet room to be examined.
Seabrook eventually got hit again and was forced to leave the game.
But the player who did the hitting – Torres – continued playing.
And there was no suspension.
This concerns Bryan Muir, who won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2003.
“Some of the suspensions that were handed out prior to the playoffs were great,” Muir says.
He adds: “It was an initiative to say this is where we stand. This is how serious we are on it [headshots]. And then to now follow through in the playoffs with some of the incidents that have happened is a bit of a letdown for me.”
The Torres hit isn’t the only hit that’s left Muir shaking his head.
Exhibit B: Boston’s Andrew Ferrence sticks out his shoulder and whacks Montreal’s Jeff Halpern in the jaw in G 6 of their first-round series.
Neither is even close to the puck.
Once again, there’s no suspension for Ferrence.
The fans in Boston boo as Halpern slowly makes his way off the ice. They seem more concerned about their player getting a penalty than the other’s safety.
This really bothers Wayne Primeau, who has played 14 years in the NHL.
His brother Keith had to retire from the game after a nasty hit left him suffering from concussions for years afterwards.
“For sure because this is not a laughing matter….I mean this is no joke,” he says.
Pushing for headshot ban
Keith Primeau is pushing for the NHL to ban all headshots because of the impact it had on his life and other players forced to retire.
He gives the NHL credit for doing something.
But when asked this week to give the new policy a midterm grade out of 10, he says the league is barely passing.
“It’s probably about 5 or 6 …unfortunately they’re dealing with it on a case by case basis.”
Jim Thomson is even harsher. Thomson played in the NHL in the 1980’s and 90’s. He was a fighter and suffered several concussions.
Now his biggest fight is to get the NHL to change fast enough.
“A lot of sickens me. We’re talking about so many players losing their careers and we’re doing nothing about it,” he says.
In an e-mail to the CBC, The NHL’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly has a different view.
He says there’s always going to be debate about suspensions.
But he says the NHL is pleased with how its new concussion protocol is working so far despite the criticism from the former players.
“It is necessarily a work in progress, and I expect that it will continue to be refined and improved as we learn more and have more experience with the protocol in practice,” Dalys says.
He adds” “But the bottom line is that it has clearly raised awareness and sensitivity at the club level.”
Still, Thomson says one big thing that needs to change is the culture of players sucking it up and playing through pain when it comes to concussions.
He wasn’t surprised to see Seabrook keep playing after taking his big hit. But he was disappointed.
“Surprise me? – I mean I went through it. When I played it was like go home, get your roommate to wake you up every two hours and take Advil. I played a whole weekend series I don’t remember it.”
Thomson says given what’s now known about concussions, players like Seabrook have to be thinking about more than just the winning the game.
“Don’t tell me he was perfect. He was about repeating as Stanley Cup champion because he’s young…the team needs him. Don’t tell me they took safety precautions. They didn’t even take him into the quiet room until they finally said we better do this or we’re going to get in shit.”
In the hunt for the Stanley Cup, players are not completely honest about how they’re feeling.
In a recent interview with CBC, Ian Laperierre of the Philadelphia Flyers says he didn’t come clean with his doctors in Philadelphia last year.
Early in last year’s playoffs, Laperriere got hit in the face with a puck.
He suffered a brain contusion and needed 70 stitches above his right eye.
Hoping to win his first Stanley Cup, the 37-year-old says he wasn’t completely honest with the medial staff and came back to play in the semifinals.
“No way, no I lied to them about my symptoms because I wanted to play.”