After he got tangled with Capitals defenseman John Carlson, Penguins center Sidney Crosby went head first into the boards behind the Capitals net Monday night in Game 6 of the teams' playoff series.
You might think this would have been a time the NHL's concussion spotters would mandate Crosby, who suffered a concussion in Game 3 and has had a history of concussions throughout his career, leave the ice for further examination.
You would have been wrong.
That's because thanks to the NHL's concussion protocol, the independent concussion spotters who monitor every game can't mandate a player leave the ice if his head hits the boards. They can do that only if the player's head hits the ice or another player, under league rules, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
"Depending on the mechanism of injury, 'slow to get up' does not trigger mandatory removal," Daly told USA Today. "The protocol has to be interpreted literally to mandate a removal. 'Ice' as compared to 'boards' is in there for a reason. It's the result of a study on our actual experiences over a number of years. 'Ice' has been found to be a predictor of concussions, 'boards' has not been."
This is yet another pitiful example of how tone deaf the NHL is when it comes to concussion diagnosis and its return-to-play guidelines.
Why should it matter how a player hits his head during a game? If a spotter thinks a player might have a concussion, that spotter should have the authority to remove the player from the game for further examination — just like spotters should have pulled Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford in a game against the Canadiens on March 14 after Crawford took a Shea Weber slap shot to the head.
With its handling of these incidents, the league has shown its concussion protocol to be a sham and nothing more than lip service to prevent future litigation from players who may develop head trauma in the future. The league is doing a disservice to its players.
Daly also told TSN that: "I am sure the club's medical and training staff were satisfied that the player was fine before he was permitted to return to play."
This is another major problem with the league's policies — it should not leave diagnosis of concussions and return-to-play decisions in the hands of team medical staffs.
There is too much potential for a conflict of interest. Imagine being the Penguins team doctor or head athletic trainer and Crosby, as players are inclined to do in these situations, tells you he feels fine to keep playing. But you think he may have suffered a concussion and would like to keep him out of the game for at least a little while to make sure he's fine. You think you, as a team employee, might feel pressure to let him play, especially when this is the face of a franchise telling you he's OK in Game 6 of a playoff series?
If you hold him back, you might not have a job tomorrow.
The Hawks have had their own issues with this.
In documents unsealed in an ongoing concussion lawsuit against the NHL, the Hawks were accused by one unnamed team doctor of rushing Martin Havlat back to play too early after a concussion in the 2009 playoffs.
The desire to play through concussions is embedded in the game's culture. Often, symptoms can appear minor and players may not think they are seriously injured, but they are doing more harm than good by playing on.