The Wild now have four players out with concussions. Brent Burns, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Petr Sykora, and now Andrew Ebbett. A week or so ago, I discussed exactly what a concussion is. Now, let's talk about how to fix the problem, since the Wild seem to be disproportionately affected.
Join me after the jump for some fun with words.
The Holy Grail of concussion cures is not likely to be found anytime soon. There is no helmet, no protection device that can prevent the brain from moving inside the skull. Unless they find a way to change the laws of physics and get rid of that pesky inertia thing, concussions are going to happen. The focus needs to be on how to prevent as many as possible, and since it is equally impossible to make the ice surface soft, what else can be done?
Messier Cascade M11 Helmet
First, we have a basic, simple solution. Helmets. Specifically, the Messier designed helmet:
The helmet is designed to cushion the blow to the head using (in layman's terms) shock absorbers throughout the helmet to absorb up to 80% of the impact.
The question this begs is, why does the league not mandate its use? Change comes slow to the NHL, shocker, I know. It has been left up to the players to decide if they want to wear it, much like face shields. Similar to the NHL prior to helmet use being mandatory, the "cool" players don't wear face shields. The "cool" players won't wear the new helmet because the stigma has already been assigned to it, that only a sissy would wear this thing.
It will require the league mandating its use in order for players to wear it. Or, perhaps the Wild need to make the move and mandate their players wear it. Suck it up boys. I'd rather see you skating in this "goofy" new helmet than not see you at all.
Count me in as a proponent of making the helmet mandatory. It hurts no one, and could save careers.
Enforcing the Rules On the Books
There are rules, already in place, to help prevent concussions. Problem is, they are not enforced. Charging, boarding, high sticking, elbowing, cross checking, slashing, tripping (am I missing any?) all have sub-clauses that if they cause injury or you show intent to injure, you can be suspended. The debate is long and ongoing about how to dole out suspensions and what garners a suspension and what doesn't. I won't go into that right now. Find any thread about suspensions, and join the discussion.
What needs to happen is for the league, and the NHLPA, to call for the rules to be enforced. It worked to eliminate the clutch and grab. There were not all that many rules added to eliminate it, they simply enforced the interference, hooking, and holding rules they already had.
Enforce the rules you have, and things calm down. At least a bit.
Eliminate One Specific Rule
Can you guess which one? That's right. The instigator rule. It is the worst thing that has happened to hockey since Jacques Lemaire perfected the trap. Fellow Wild blog Wild Puck asked today about The Code. The Code is supposed to make it clear to players that they must respect each other. It is the unwritten rules of any sport that are more important than the rules in the rule book. However, The Code is dead.
Gone are the days of bench clearing brawls, of knowing you were going to have to stare down Derek Boogaard if you crossed the line. Now, all you need to do is wait until Boogey is on the bench and take your shot. Not like Boogaard can jump the boards and come take you out. If he does, he gets suspended. So, you simply wait it out and take your shot when the scariest guy on the ice is James Sheppard.
If I am Ed Jovanovski, and I know that if I cross the line, no matter when or where, that all 6' 8" 275 lbs of Derek Boogaard are going to come crashing down on my head, I think twice. Andrew Ebbet gets put into the boards, or I poke check the puck away. Instead, Jovo has free reign to do anything he wants, knowing that the worst that will happen is he will need to rest his weary bones for a couple games.
Players are no longer allowed to police themselves. With less than five minutes left in a game, you no longer see the retribution doled out like in the old days. Now, it carries a suspension and a fine for the coach. So, no one does anything. By the time the next game comes around, the focus is back on getting the two points, and retribution can wait.
Why, you may ask. Why has The Code died? There is no simple answer other than: economics. Gary Bettman has decided it is more important to be able to market the game to people who have absolutely no interest in the game than it is to allow the players to play the game. Find yourself a non-hockey fan and ask them why they don't watch it. You will most likely find out that "they don't like the fighting." Despite the fact that the number of fights has plummeted, they still don't watch. They never will. So screw 'em. Stop catering to people who hate you.
But hold on a minute. We can't just get rid of people who hate the game and put the instigator rule to death. But Buddha, why not? Because there are hockey teams in non-traditional markets that are struggling. I know, here it comes. The "I'm a Minnesota hockey fan so I am so much better than you" right? Wrong.
The Coyotes have no corporate partners. Either do the Panthers or the Lightning. The institution of the instigator rule coincided with the expansion of the NHL into markets it did not need to be in. In order to garner the corporate partners it needed, the NHL need to get the violence under control. In doing so, the NHL killed The Code in order to make a buck.
They are now paying the price for that greed.
Players are dropping like flies. Concussions are clearly on the rise. There is no simple solution, and there will always be concussions in a game as fast and as physical as hockey. However, a combination of new protection, enforcement of rules, and elimination of the instigator penalties would certainly cut down on the bulk of them. Until they invent padded ice, something else needs to be done.
Got a better idea? Tell us about it.