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Report: New NHL concussion spotters will have power to remove players

Players will no longer be able to avoid undergoing concussion protocol if potentially concussive blows or signs of a concussion are picked up by new, league-appointed concussion spotters.

The 2015-16 campaign was the first in which the NHL had “concussion spotters” on hand to aid medical staffs and point out when a player may have suffered a concussion, but the role is getting more power this coming season thanks to updates to the league’s concussion protocol.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Friday that come the start of the 2016-17 season, the NHL will continue to use spotters at each game, but the league will also introduce four independent trainers, called “Central Spotters,” who will monitor each night’s games in a manner similar to that of the Department of Player Safety’s war room. Each of the new spotters has a hockey background, Friedman added, but there are no ties to any NHL clubs.

Of all the powers the new spotters have, it appears the biggest one will be the ability to notify a team that a certain player “must be removed from the game,” Friedman reported, and that’s a big step forward.

While introducing the spotters this past season was a great move by the league, the ability of the spotters was limited. The spotters could point out and communicate to the medical staffs if a hit or action led to a player suffering what could be a potential concussion, but it was the job of the teams themselves to decide whether or not to pull a player out of action. That can be a tricky process, especially if players attempt to deny feeling symptoms or cover up what they’re feeling after a possibly concussive blow.

The new Central Spotters will eliminate the ability of the players to find their way around the in-arena spotters’ heads up to medical staff, though. If any of the four NHL-based spotters spot a worrying sign, the impacted player will be taken out of action and presumably be forced to undergo concussion protocol.

There were several instances this past season in which a player may have suffered a concussion but didn’t leave the game, including the now-infamous incident involving Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman and the throat-slashing gesture by Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri.

Friedman reported the increased power given to the new spotters is an almost direct result of the Wideman incident — he refused to leave the bench but later said he believed he was concussed before hitting linesman Don Henderson — but incidencts like Kadri’s also provide reason for the spotters to have more power. Kadri directed a throat-slash gesture at Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, but Kadri said post-game that he didn’t remember doing it and was “kind of in and out of it” after being checked by Giordano. Kadri was fined $5,000.

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