Skip to main content

NHL GMs wisely won't recommend changes to concussion protocol for goalies

The concussion protocol will remain status quo in an effort to protect players, especially goalies, from themselves.

Something that everyone is going to have to get their heads around when it comes to a couple of aspects of the NHL today is you can either get it right or be expedient. You can’t be both of those all the time. And at their meetings in Florida today, the league’s GMs wrestled with that very concept.

Take the concussion protocol, for instance. Either you want to protect goaltenders from the potential devastating effects from blows to the head or you want to ignore them. In this case, the GMs wisely decided the best course of action would be to treat goaltenders as they would any other player who is suspected of having a concussion.

That’s why they decided as a group Tuesday to leave the concussion protocol status quo rather than to suggest any changes to the league’s competition committee. So if a goalie is involved in a collision and could potentially have a concussion, as it happened with Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith recently, he will be taken off the ice and evaluated further. And that means his team will not only be without him for the next 12-15 minutes in real time, his substitute will not have the luxury of having a warm-up.

Now the GMs could have acquiesced to the goalies who claim it’s unfair to take such an important player out of action, particularly since there’s really nothing preventing a coach from sending a player out to run a goalie and effectively knock him out of the game for a crucial period of time. And, yes, it could happen in the playoffs. And a team whose goalie is removed might give up a crucial goal in a playoff game, only to find out that the goalie involved did not suffer a concussion. The only problem with changing that protocol is it would put goaltenders in harm’s way and create a double standard. And with the league staring down the barrel of a concussion lawsuit, that is not going to happen.

The NHL needs more ‘Blue Sky’ thinking when it comes to rule changes, but won’t get it

“What we forget sometimes is these players are ultra-competitive, that’s why they are where they are,” Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill told in a telephone interview from the meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.. “They get hit and they might not think they have a concussion, but they may have one. It’s for their safety and we have to make sure that’s our priority.”

It is so important to take these decisions out of the hands of players and anyone else who has a vested interest in the outcome because, basically their judgment in those situations cannot be trusted. It hasn’t always been that way with GMs, but there is slowly a change in thinking where the power brokers have realized that kind of selfishness can get them into long-term trouble.

“We’re dealing with an injury here,” said Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. “When we’re all involved with a team and involved in a game and we lose a player in a game, you view that a different way when you’re in the heat of the battle. But if you step back from it and understand that the league is trying to protect the players and you understand the reasons why, then you take a different viewpoint.”

The GMs talked about instituting a system where each team would have a capable goaltender available at every game who could be called upon on a moment’s notice to suit up as a backup in that very situation. But there is a logistic obstacle there. In Canadian cities, where you can shake a tree and goalies fall out, access to players like that is not a problem. But what about places such as Dallas, Florida and Arizona, where it’s far more difficult to find players of that ability?

But for now, anyway, the rule stands. As it should. And it’s the same with video replay. Yes, we all roll our eyes when it takes eight minutes for the people in Toronto to rule definitively on a disputed play. It disrupts the flow of the game and grinds everything to a halt. But its about getting the call right. People cannot demand the league get the call right every single time, then complain that it’s taking too long to get the call right. The league reported that the average time for a video review has gone down from 2:27 to 2:05 this season, but those long, painful ones are sometimes unavoidable.

“Everybody was crying that we have to have video replay,” Nill said. “And the league fought it off for a while and said, ‘Careful what you wish for because it does grow other legs,’ and we’re seeing that right now.”

As far as the offside rule was concerned, that was also discussed and there was a push to change the rule to reflect whether a player’s skate was in the air, but along the plane of the blueline. That was until the league revealed there have been more than 5,700 offsides this season and 100 have been challenged, with only nine overturned. In the end, the GMs didn’t see that as a big enough reason to start changing the rules that have been in place for more than 50 years. And as Nill pointed out, the spirit of the rule was to eliminate the egregious offside goals, such as the Matt Duchene goal four years ago that motivated the league to have video review for offsides in the first place.

“Really what you do when you change something like that is you move the goalposts,” Rutherford said. “For the number of times you have that situation, it’s a very minimal number. Let’s say for the sake of this point we changed it. You’re still going to get the review on that that is still going to be within a hair one way or the other.”



NHL Off-Season Outlook: Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames weren't able to build upon a strong regular season in the playoffs. Now, the team's busy off-season is in full swing.

Georges Laraque

Georges Laraque: My NHL Draft Day Experience

From peeing in a cup to almost losing my lunch, hearing his at the draft was just part of a memorable weekend for Georges Laraque.

Caroline Ouellette

Nine Women's Hockey Candidates for the Hockey Hall of Fame

With Riikka Sallinen becoming the next woman to get inducted later this year, here’s a look at the next nine players who could, and should, see themselves enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame.