The Sabres witnessed history when they watched Jonas Gustavsson skate past their bench and disappear toward the Edmonton dressing room. It was the first time the NHL’s new concussion evaluation and management protocol went to work.
In an attempt to protect players from further brain injury, the NHL is requiring mandatory removal of any player suspected of having a concussion. A team doctor will immediately perform a concussion test in a quiet room. Players diagnosed with a concussion will not be permitted to return, while those who pass the test can come back at the doctor’s discretion.
Making Gustavsson’s case unique was new league spotters ordered the goalie’s removal. “Central League Spotters” will watch all games from the player safety room in New York, and they are authorized to force a player’s removal if they see defined signs of a concussion following a direct or indirect blow to the head.
Gustavsson went down last Sunday after teammate Adam Larsson backed into the goalie’s head. Though Gustavsson stayed in the game after an on-ice examination by the Oilers’ athletic trainer, he left three minutes later when spotters called from New York.
“It was phoned in to our trainer that he has to come out,” Edmonton coach Todd McLellan said.
The central league spotters are certified athletic trainers who have clinical experience working in elite-level hockey and have received training on the visible signs of concussions. Trained in-arena spotters and on-ice officials will also watch for possible concussions and complement the central league spotters. Only the spotters in New York and on-ice officials have the authority to remove a player.
Teams that refuse to remove their player will receive a $25,000 fine for the first offense, according to TSN, with substantially increasing fines for any subsequent offense. The league and the NHL Players’ Association jointly approved the protocol, with input from neurologists, team physicians, athletic trainers, St. Louis General Manager Doug Armstrong and various legal representatives.
The signs for removal from the game are:
*A player reporting or showing concussion symptoms, including headache, dizziness, amnesia and sensitivity to light or sound.
*Lying motionless on the ice or falling in an unprotected manner (failing to straighten hands or arms to minimize impact).
*Balance problems such as staggering, stumbling while trying to get up and losing balance while skating.
*A blank or vacant look.
*Slow to get up or clutching the head or face after taking a blow to head or upper torso from a player’s shoulder, after making contact with the ice or after getting punched by an ungloved fist.
— Andy Cole (@AndyCole84) October 17, 2016
The new rules come as members of Congress continue to question NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the league’s concussion dealings. Four ranking members of the committee on energy and commerce (along with its subcommittees on health; oversight and investigations; and commerce, manufacturing and trade) sent a four-page letter to Bettman seeking answers to numerous concussion-related questions.
Bettman’s repeated denial that head injuries can cause long-term problems like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) spurred the letter. The authors requested answers from Bettman by Monday.
The league’s lawyers, meanwhile, continue to prepare a defense against a lawsuit filed by more than 100 former players who suffered concussions. They say the NHL was negligent in its care and fraudulently concealed the long-term risks of head injuries. The players, who include former Sabres Mike Robitaille, Grant Ledyard, Craig Muni and Shawn Anderson, are seeking medical monitoring and compensatory damages.
The plaintiffs have added the estate of the late Lawrence Zeidel to the proposed list of class representatives. Zeidel, who played 158 NHL games during a journeyman career that ran from 1951 to 1968, died in 2014 at age 86 after battling dementia. He was found to have CTE.
The lawsuit has slowed as the sides wait for physicians reports. A motion for class certification was expected in September, but the plaintiffs must now file their motion by Dec. 8. The NHL then has until April 27 to file its memorandum of opposition. The plaintiffs will have until June 29 to issue their reply. The hearing for class certification will be held July 11 in front of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minnesota.