Keeping with today’s theme of concussions and head hits, it’s time to look at the leagues responsibility to player safety. The NHL’s job is to make the rules that players have to follow. Putting the sole responsibility on the players would be similar to saying it is completely a drivers responsibility to prevent automobile crashes. There are police officers that are responsible for enforcing the speed limit in hopes that if people get caught speeding, they will learn their lesson and keep serious accidents to a minimum. The NHL needs to be the police when it comes to concussions and head hits. A player cannot be expected to foresee every possibility being or making a hit. There are just too many variables. A clear-cut policy for the league adheres to is the best possible solution.
The NHL Is making steps towards this goal but the problem lies in the fact that these steps aren’t coming quickly enough. Players are losing their careers, and in some cases their lives, directly related to concussions that they received while playing for a professional team in the NHL. At what point does the league come to the conclusion that they have a serious problem on their hands, and they need to fix their practices?
The "quiet room" that the league instituted to test players for concussions has proven to be inadequate again and again. Two weeks ago, after a hit by Brad Stuart of the San Jose Sharks that left him obviously shaken, Gabriel Landeskog left to game to be evaluated for a concussion. He returned to the ice less than 30 minutes later, and finished out the game. He hasn’t played a game since, officially due to head and neck injuries but reported as a concussion by Avalanche beat writer Adrian Dater. It’s possible that Landeskog lied about his symptoms in order to get back on the ice and try to help his team, but it’s even more likely he didn’t have very many tell-tale concussion signs. Sometimes these symptoms don’t show up for days or weeks after the injury happens.
Brendan Shanahan has made it clear that he has no real rhyme or reason to the suspensions and/or fines that he hands out to players on head hits. Shanahan’s ban wheel has been a source of entertainment and sorrow for fans since he took over the job as NHL head disciplinarian prior to the 2011-2012 hockey season. There have been many instances where a player was obviously injured yet no suspension or fine was given, and there have almost as many times where there has been no injury involved but a player has been given a fine or suspension (Pierre-Marc Bouchard is an excellent example of both instances).
The International Ice Hockey Federation has taken the position that there is no such thing as a clean hit to the head. A hit to the head is automatically game misconduct, and usually followed up with additional game suspensions. The IIHF has an informative video that explains their policy (http://www.iihf.com/home-of-hockey/news/videoconcussions.html). Why, in a league considered to be the best league in the world, are head hits still allowed in NHL games? In the past, the NHL has stated that the rules in the books right now are adequate enough to cover head hits. If you consider the amount of serious concussions that players are still facing in this league, this is clearly not the case.
Until the NHL takes a more stringent approach to reducing head hits, their current lackadaisical philosophy will continue to recklessly harm the league's most valuable product - the players.