Player safety and preventing concussions and treating brain injuries has taken a prominent place in professional and amateur sports in recent years and if this past regular season in the NHL is any indication, hockey has taken steps to minimize concussions in their sports as there were 25 fewer reported concussions this season compared to the last full regular season.
According to data from STATS via The Associated Press, there were 53 concussions during the regular season which is down from the 78 reported concussions during the league’s last full season two years ago.
Will this decline in reported concussions represent a sign of things to come or a blip on the radar?
According to Dr. Jeff Kutcher, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based neurologist who works with NHL players who have concussions, isn’t ready to make a correlation between the data and the NHL making significant progress.
“I’m not surprised that the numbers are down, but I wouldn’t read too much into those numbers,” Kutcher said.
As the NHL season is potentially one game away from concluding with the Los Angeles Kings holding a commanding 3-0 series lead over the New York Rangers, the league will enter an offseason recognizing more work can still be done to address the league’s concussion protocol which requires players to get a team doctor’s ‘okay’ before returning to the ice.
“Obviously, it’s difficult for us to get into a player’s head, no pun intended, with this concussion discussion,” he said. “But if a player is going to not follow the protocol, not say exactly what he’s feeling, that’s pretty difficult to address.”
This has left some players skating around the rules and regulations and lacing up their skates before allowing enough time to let their brain to heal from the traumatic event. Perhaps more work needs to be done in the way the league educates its players about the dangers of playing with a concussion or hiding the severity of the injury to continue playing.
“Guys downplay the symptoms or don’t report them because of job security and they don’t want to lose their spot,” Detroit forward Drew Miller said. “And, guys want to keep playing because they want help their team. In the back of our minds, too, you don’t want other teams to know you have a head injury.”
The comments by Miller echo comments made by some current and former NFL players who have said they would hide a head injury to return to the field quicker, including former Chicago Bears linebacker who said he would lie about having a concussion so he wouldn’t be held out for the remainder of the game and perhaps the following week as well.
Sweeping declarations can’t be made with one years worth of data from the NHL. More data needs to come in before we can definitively say whether the NHL has made significant progress in limiting concussions, but the data is encouraging if nothing else and hopefully a sign of things to come.