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NHL toughens up concussion spotters program, deputizes refs

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The National Hockey League’s concussion “spotters” program has been criticized in the past for not having any teeth. (Including on this here blog!)

So when word leaked last month that the NHL was adding special video-monitoring concussion spotters who could tell teams that an “affected player must be removed from the game,” we were somewhat intrigued.

On Tuesday, the NHL released the full details of its “Central League Spotters” program, and here they are:

NEW YORK/TORONTO (Oct. 11, 2016) – The National Hockey League (NHL) announced today the implementation of a number of new policies and procedures to enhance the NHL/National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) Concussion Protocol.

While it remains an individual Club’s responsibility to identify a Player who requires removal from play and evaluation for possible concussion, the NHL and the NHLPA have agreed to provide additional support to help identify Players who require evaluation under the NHL/NHLPA Concussion Protocol.

A new staff of Central League Spotters will monitor all games from the Player Safety Room in New York and will be authorized to require a Player’s removal from play for evaluation for concussion if the Player exhibits certain visible sign(s) under the Protocol, following a direct or indirect blow to the head. In-Arena League Spotters and On-Ice Officials will complement the Central League Spotters and will also monitor play for signs of possible concussion.

Specified sanctions will be imposed on Clubs that violate the Concussion Protocol. Clubs that do not remove a Player who requires an evaluation will be subject to a mandatory minimum fine for a first offense, with substantially increased fine amounts for any subsequent offense. Additionally, any Player designated for a mandatory evaluation will not be permitted to re-enter the game unless and until he is evaluated by his Club’s medical staff and cleared to play in accordance with the Protocol. 

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Let’s cut in here: So the NHL is now hitting teams with financial penalties with a “substantial” multiplier if they enter a seemingly concussed player into the protocol.

Previously, a team like the Calgary Flames – who bungled the Dennis Wideman concussion, from the incident to the postgame obfuscation with the media – could have been fined for ignoring the concussion protocol. In fact, teams have been fined for it in the past, according to Bill Daly.

The trick is that the public isn’t privy to these fines, because the NHL keeps it all hush-hush. It’s never been included in a press release. Does this new policy signal a change? Probably not, with a concussion lawsuit still looming. But at least the penalties are increasing.

We continue:

The staff of Central League Spotters that have been retained by the League are all certified athletic trainers who have clinical experience working in elite level hockey, and have received training on the visible signs of concussion in the Protocol. The Central League Spotters will observe every NHL game via television broadcast. The In-Arena League Spotters are also employed by the League as Off-Ice Officials.

In-Arena Spotters also have received training on the visible signs of concussion and will be assigned to ensure that they will be dedicated solely to the spotting function during games in which they have been designated as the In-Arena Spotter. The In-Arena League Spotters will observe games live, in the arenas. While all Spotters (Central and In-Arena) will be able to communicate freely with one another during games, only the Central League Spotter will communicate with the Club’s medical staff if a Player requires removal and evaluation under the Protocol. 

Pay attention, here’s the thick of the plot:

On-Ice Officials are also authorized to require a Player’s removal for evaluation if they observe a Player displaying visible signs of concussion under the Protocol, following a direct or indirect blow to the head. In addition, On-Ice Officials now have the authority to mandate the removal of a Player from the game if the Player continues to play after the Central League Spotter has communicated to the Club medical staff that a mandatory evaluation is required. 

Yes! The NHL has actually empowered its on-ice officials to send off a player that the Central League Spotters have identified as potentially concussed. They have been deputized to help enforce the concussion protocol. About time.

The NHL already had pressure on it to be more vigilant about concussions when Dennis Wideman attacked linesman Don Henderson. But that incident was the flame that lit the fuse for better enforcement of the concussion policy, new sets of eyes looking out for concussions and punitive consequences for teams that choose to ignore the protocol. So at least some good came from it.

Finally, in closing: We again marvel at the irony that the NHL is allowing concussions to be diagnosed via television viewers after lambasting the NHLPA’s doctors for evaluating Wideman over FaceTime and later dismissing the arbitrator who reduced Wideman’s suspension for “fact-finding” by watching video of the incident.


Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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