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NHL concerned over head count

As the number of concussions goes up, particularly with high-profile players, the league tries to be proactive with stiffer penalties and rules changes.

December 31, 2011|By Lisa Dillman

"It reminds me very much of tobacco executives in the '70s screaming to the media and testifying before Congress that there is no definitive link between cigarette smoking and cancer."

Primeau has taken a leading role in promoting safety through his foundation Two years into his retirement, he felt he needed to move front and center.

"On reflection, I said, how do we make a difference?" Primeau said. "We make a difference by making people aware, educate people and also through research and development.

"You can never understand until you've gone through it, how difficult it is on a daily basis to wake up with symptoms that are related to injury to the head. It's not sports-centric. It's cultural. We see brain injury all the time."

About two-thirds of the teams in the league have had a player sidelined at some point this season with concussion symptoms. Some, like the Kings' Mike Richards (this season) and Drew Doughty (last season) are reluctant to call it that.

The league permits teams to be as precise or vague as they want in publicly disclosing injuries.

As a result, the term "upper-body injury" can cover a lot of different ailments. Gillis said that it is done for the protection of the player.

"We've been talking a lot about what the effects are of disclosure and of people knowing about it and people asking a player, particularly in Vancouver," the Canucks' Gillis said. "Our players are famous in that city … if they have concussion symptoms they are constantly being asked and asked about it.

"There is some school of thought that it makes it worse for them because they are more susceptible to depression and stress and anxiety about it. It's a challenging issue."

Said Daly: "What the clubs are obligated to report to the media is not consistent with what they're obligated to report to us. I'm very comfortable with the concussion numbers we get from the team medical professionals."

Daly spoke about the changes the league has made on several fronts, talking about "softer glass environments," and the changes in Rules 48 and 41, and stiffer stances in terms of supplementary discipline. "So I think we've been very, very proactive in this area and will continue to be going forward," he said.

Gillis believes the next step is to look at equipment to try to minimize the impact of incidental contact "as much as possible."

Walsh maintains the greatest push will come from a venue outside the sporting arena, taking note of the many lawsuits filed in the last few months by former NFL players against their league over concussions. He predicted the same thing would eventually happen in hockey.

"Mark my words, lawsuits are coming," he said. "And there will be no greater change agent for the NHL and teams than lawsuits."

Staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report.

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