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NHL unveils plan to combat and treat head injuries

It mandates that players who report or exhibit concussion symptoms be examined 'in a quiet place,' safety tweaks to equipment and arenas and new punishment rules to help in accountability.

March 14, 2011|By Helene Elliott
  • Penguins owner Mario Lemieux backs a system of progressive, suspension-based fines that would have cost his club $600,000.
Penguins owner Mario Lemieux backs a system of progressive, suspension-based… (Jason Cohn / Reuters )

As concussion-stricken Sidney Crosby took his first strides on the ice in Pittsburgh in more than two months, NHL general managers on Monday took tentative strides toward minimizing and treating head injuries — a hot topic since Boston's Zdeno Chara wasn't suspended for a hit that left Montreal's Max Pacioretty with a concussion and fractured vertebra.

Commissioner Gary Bettman opened the three-day session in Boca Raton, Fla., by introducing a five-point plan highlighted by a new protocol for head injuries. It mandates that players who report or display concussion symptoms be examined by a team physician "in a quiet place" instead of by a trainer on the bench.

The league will collaborate with the players' association to reduce the size of equipment, a safety engineering firm will evaluate hazards in all 30 arenas, and teams were ordered to change seamless glass to Plexiglass. Bettman also appointed a committee comprised of former players Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake and two players who are general managers — Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk — to examine "topics relevant to the issue."

Jonathon Blum realizing his dream of playing in NHL

In addition, the Board of Governors will be asked to hold clubs and coaches accountable for players repeatedly punished through supplementary discipline. According to, Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux, who criticized the NHL for mishandling suspensions stemming from a February brawl between the Penguins and Islanders, backed a system of progressive, suspension-based fines that would have cost his club $600,000.

Data presented to general managers said legal hits accounted for 44% of reported concussions this season, but it's unclear whether the numbers include problems teams cloak as upper-body injuries.

Crosby told reporters in Pittsburgh he has been free of symptoms a few days but has "no clue" if he will return this season. Being on the ice for 15 minutes and stick-handling represented progress, but not enough to project a timetable.

He also said he would favor banning deliberate shots to the head. "You're not going to lose anything from the game if you take that away," he said.

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