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Updated concussion protocol gives referees power to remove players, fines for violators

In-arena spotters will continue to monitor games, but added power has been given to referees and a team of spotters working from the NHL’s Player Safety room in an attempt to remove potentially concussed players from action.

When it comes to removing potentially concussed players from action, the NHL plans to continue to rely on teams to have their players’ best interest in mind, but have decided to hand some of the power over to league appointed concussions spotters and referees.

On Monday, the NHL officially announced changes to concussion protocol for the new season, and the biggest, most evident change is one that will allow for “Central League Spotters” to identify players they believe needs to undergo evaluation for a potential concussion and require the identified player to undergo the evaluation before returning to action.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported during the off-season that the league had planned to add league-appointed spotters for the upcoming campaign, and Monday’s announcement confirmed that the NHL’s spotters will all have backgrounds that aid them in spotting signs of potential concussion. Per the NHL, each of the Central League Spotters, who will be tasked with watching each game from the NHL’s Player Safety room, “are all certified athletic trainers who have clinical experience working in elite level hockey, and have received training on the visible signs of concussion in the protocol.”

The league-appointed spotters won’t be alone in attempting to watch out for the signs of concussion, however. In addition, the league will rely on in-arena spotters and on-ice officials, all of whom have been asked to monitor games for potential signs of concussion.

While in-arena spotters, employed by the league as off-ice officials, will be watching for concussions, it will be up to the Central League Spotters to reach out to a team’s medical staff to see that a player is removed from play and tested for a concussion. But the Central League Spotters aren’t alone in their ability to require that a player leave the ice for evaluation, as referees will now also have that ability.

Per the NHL, on-ice officials will have the ability to order that a player undergo testing “if they observe a player displaying visible signs of concussion under the protocol, following a direct or indirect blow to the head.” 

And in the off-chance a team or player decides to ignore the call from the Central League Spotters or the order from an on-ice official for a potentially concussed player to leave play, the referees have the power to remove that player from the game until they’ve undergone testing. In fact, no player will be allowed to come back into the game “unless and until” he has been evaluated by the club and cleared to play.

There is one added wrinkle to the protocol, too, that will see teams that ignore the NHL’s concussion policies slapped with financial penalties. According to the NHL’s release, “clubs that do not remove a Player who requires an evaluation will be subject to a mandatory minimum fine for a first offense, with substantially increased fine amounts for any subsequent offense.” 

Giving the league — and especially officials manning the games — more power to remove players is what’s best for players and teams in the long run, and it’s a welcome step in the right direction when it comes to concussion protocol.

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