Are Head Shots Getting Out of Hand?

With Sidney Crosby keeping a low-profile and the Penguins organization remaining quiet on his status as of late, it would appear to be back to “square-one” for Crosby’s progress with his concussion.

Since he last played at the beginning of last month in a highly physical game against the Boston Bruins, he went from missing the following two games “as a precaution” because he wasn’t feeling well to being placed on injured reserve (IR) once more with an “undisclosed injury” (about three weeks ago) which he has since reported to be a return of concussion symptoms.

According to a recent article by NHL.com correspondent Alan Robinson, Dan Bylsma said that Crosby is exercising lightly (he has worked out periodically at the CONSOL), but has not been back on the ice and will have to go through the same steps he took prior to his return on November 21, 2011. Once again, there is no timeline, but it would seem that it won’t be anytime soon.

Unfotunately Crosby isn’t the only one that has been plagued by a concussion (just a case of a particular concussion that, NHL.com’s Robinson reports, affects his vestibular system and has a longer recovery time than some other types). A vast number of players in the league are not returning to play during games or to the lineup for a game or more after suffering the affects of a hit to the head. It would seem that concussions are on the rise with the growing list of players like Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger, Jeff Skinner, and Shea Weber being the latest of those having an extended absence due to concussions over the past few months.

At present, it would appear that head shots are out of control and concussions have somehow become an epidemic in the league, but maybe there’s something else playing a role in it.

Perhaps a look from a different perspective would more convincingly suggest that the NHL is in the midst of a transition and that this is a fairly obvious shift they’re making towards gaining a better handle on head shots which is leading to more immeditate treatment of head injuries that players suffer at the onset instead of waiting until it may be too late to reverse negative effects.

The league has made several changes for the better which began with Colin Campbell stepping down as the league’s disciplinarian last June and being replaced by former player Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan heads a new and expanding part of the league as NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations.

Granted, Shanahan and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is a long way from getting it exactly right; but they’re on the right track.

During a discussion among VERSUS panelists prior to the Penguins/Blackhawks game on December 20, 2011, they were talking about the recent controversy caused when it was discovered that Colby Armstrong of the Toronto Maple Leafs went a few days without reporting concussion-like symptoms. Mike Milbury chalked it up to Armstrong’s behavior being “old school.” Perhaps this is more revealing of the NHL’s current shift than anything else up to this point. Wouldn’t that mean “new school” can be defined as something much more positive and proves the league is making positive strides. It would also suggest there has been a positive mental shift in the way players, coaching staff, and the league views head shots.

If, at this point, players are more likely to skate to the bench and into the locker to the “quiet room” after certain hits instead of playing through them (when they’re more likely to continue playing the entire game instead of sitting out a period or the remainder); coaches and training staff are more likely to check players immediately after certain hits in the “quiet room” instead of waiting for breaks and intermissions; and if physicians are more likely to suggest that players sit out a game or more to be safe and certain the player is 100% instead of telling them they’re “okay” to play then I’d say that’s a change for the better.

Right now it’s a matter of the league bringing it all together for more positive resolutions and a healthier league without risking the career or, more importantly, the health of elite players like Sidney Crosby. It will most certainly be well worth this inconvenient transition the league is in and the patience it takes until it’s business as usual for the NHL.

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