Concussions are becoming a serious issue in the NHL, potentially more than any other sport. As a football player, I had a concussion one weekend and was back the next, ready to go. It is somewhat of a mystery why concussions recovery times are so long in the NHL. Obviously, Sidney Crosby was the poster child of the NHL before his concussion, racking up points and was being talked about as potentially one of the best of all-time. However, the concussion
he suffered in the Winter Classic has without a doubt murkied the waters for this All-star center. This hit has been part of the reason of the NHL’s increased suspensions on purely dirty hits. Although some would argue that Capitals center David Steckel did not really hit Crosby, it is clear that Steckel could have skated past Crosby without blindsiding him. Brendan Shanahan has recently doled out suspensions, including his most recent to Coyotes forward Raffi Torres for his mindless hit on Marian Hossa. Hossa is still questionable for the coming season, although all reports seem to say that Hossa should be fine come puck drop for the first game.
Although concussions have come to the forefront of the sport in recent years with many stars getting injured, this was an injury that has been in the NHL for a long time. A study that came out in a 2011 edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal took a look at the prevalence of concussions between the years of 1997-2004. The casual fan would probably think that a hockey-related concussion maybe occurs once every month maybe, but in the 2000-2001 season, there were 7.7 concussions per every 100 players. Each of the 30 NHL teams have 23 active players, so there are roughly 690 players that play in the NHL each year, provided that none of them get hurt. If one were to add in injuries and minor league call-ups, there are probably roughly 775 players that take the ice in a given season. If you were to do the math, roughly 60 players got a concussions in the NHL, or two per team. The severity of these injuries were looked at as well, where a unfortunate trend was found. As the study was carried out between the seven years, the number of players receiving concussions decreased but the average length that players were unable to play greatly increased. By 2003-2004, 4.9 concussions occurred per 100 players. After running the same math as before, 38 players received concussion during that year. Equipment , such as helmets, most likely got more advanced and aided in the prevention of concussions but every team in the NHL would have had at least one player sidelined with a concussion. With the increase in severity of these concussions, players are looking at missing months, not weeks, in the current NHL. Sidney Crosby’s whole career was put into question, while Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews missed two months and barely came back for the Blackhawks playoff series versus the Coyotes.
Speed kills in today’s NHL, everyone knows that. A quick winger, who can zip down the slot, is a premium in the NHL. However, when two players converge full speed for a hit, the results can be devastating. 30 years ago, players may have just tried to man up and play through the concussions. However, the game is played a faster pace than it was.
The answer: It is hard to provide one answer that will alleviate this major problem in the NHL. However, the only one that seems plausible is respect. Players must have the respect for the guy that wears that other sweater, regardless if the teams are bitter rivals. Shanahan can suspend and fine as much as he wants, but the players need to realize that they are all fighting a common goal. Hoisting Lord Stanley is every hockey player’s dream but no one can tell me that hoisting up your new son and hopefully your grandson does not top that moment. At the end of the day, NHL players are trying to make a living and provide for their families.