Greetings from Boca Raton, Fla., dear readers. Busy day with a ton of news.
In Pittsburgh, C Sidney Crosby, has resumed skating, hitting the ice for a 15-minute workout. He hadn’t been on the ice since Jan. 5.
As that news broke NHL GMs were meeting here, and I’ve gathered their reaction to the headshot/concussion debate that dominated Day 1 of these meetings. Starting off is Pens GM Ray Shero, who first addresses Crosby’s status then goes into meetings-related topics.
Forgive any typos, as it’s been a fast and furious day of transcribing and writing. Video of Shero and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will post at triblive.com shortly, and be sure to look for complete coverage of Monday’s events in Tuesday’s print editions (and, of course, online).
PENGUINS GM RAY SHERO
= On Sid’s progress:
“I knew he was feeling better just from seeing him the past couple of weeks, the look in his eyes and him being back on the bike. That to me is the most important thing. I knew he was shooting and stuff like that in the room we have in the back, but for him to get back on the ice is a good step. We’ll just go day-to-day. As I said before to Dan Bylsma we’ll just see how it goes. Getting back on the ice is just that first step.
“There’s no timetable at all. He got back on the ice on his own, which is a good step. We’ll see how he does, how he progresses. The most important thing is that he gets his life back in order and feels good about himself, which he does recently – so that’s the good news.
“I’d heard in the last day or two he wanted to go on. I wasn’t sure if he would. You can’t keep anything secret. I said, ‘What’s he going to do, skate in the dark? (laughs)
“I didn’t think about (him) that much. We didn’t talk about it every day. People don’t believe that, but that’s the way it was. If he came back, he came back. The whole time I just hoped he’d feel better. When I saw him recently he looks a lot better. Engaging in conversation recently you knew he was doing well. The next step was the bike and not felling any ill-effects and that was great. To me, the guy’s a world class athlete and it’s good for him to be able to work out. Now the next step is, ‘Let’s get the skates on for a bit.’ Whether or not he plays again this season is irrespective of him feeling better. That’s good. It’s like my kid; he’s trying to get a full day of school in today. That’s good. That’s progress.”
= On NHL’s point of view about head shots:
“We looked at a lot of video today, and some were accidental – collisions, sometimes with your own teammate. Part of our job is to look more to see if we can help with player’s safety. That’s the most important thing we’re looking at right now, but also maintaining the integrity of the game. There’s a balancing act there, but from my own personal standpoint I don’t like seeing head hits, I don’t like seeing hits to the head. But we’ll have more conversations in these breakout groups and see what happens.”
= On video of Steckel’s hit on Crosby:
“Many of the hits we saw, there were maybe 50, and that was just one of them.”
= On concussion diagnosis protocol:
“That’s going to be good. You see this around the league – a guy goes back into the game or plays the next game or three or four more games, and they say they haven’t felt right for four games. I’m a super parent I guess because my son (Christopher) had a concussion about a month ago, and I let him play seven more games and practice five more times. We didn’t know. So as a parent it’s frustrating. All these guys have parents. You’re dealing with lives and careers, a lot of things – my kid’s schooling. That’s part of this. As I’ve said before when you’re talking about protocol for concussions we’re evolving as a league. We’ve made strides since last year, and we’ll continue to make strides.”
= On Crosby’s protocol after Steckel hit:
“He was cleared to play. He got back in. I saw him the day of the Tampa game (Jan. 5) at 4:30 p.m., and it never occurred to me that he’d have a concussion. As I said with my son – it was my son, I live with him, and I’d have never known. These are delicate injuries, and you can talk to doctors; but when you talk about concussions it’s getting more and more knowledge of this stuff and protecting players.
“Concussions are probably up, and that’s good but it’s (also) probably bad. It’s good because players are reporting it and because doctors are being more proactive about diagnosing concussions.”
= On looking back at how Sid was handled, anything differently done:
“No. Hindsight, I mean, we’ve got Arron Asham, Eric Tangradi, Nick Johnson – we’ve got plenty of guys with concussions. Like with my son it’s the same thing it’s about finding the symptoms, defining the symptoms – whether that be a player or with my son.”
= On steps moving forward for player’s safety during GM meetings:
“Yeah, I think so. In the breakout groups and looking at all these videos and having these discussions with other managers, that’s the important thing finding different view point. What I think of one thing another manager isn’t going to think the same way I’m sure, but you get the different viewpoints and look at what everybody has to say. I think we can make some progress that way.”
= On ruling out head shots:
“You know, what’s the definition? Should we try to make it more strict? We’ll get back into that tomorrow. Everybody is trying to make some progress.”
= On Chara hit:
“Even on the video there are a lot of those hits – between the shoulder blade, to the head – the Chara thing was really unfortunate. I’ve got a different view than some. I thought it was probably a suspendable hit, but not everybody agrees with that. That’s part of the thing with our sport, not everybody agrees with what a suspension should be, and it’s subjective. But we’re going to look at the definition of it, or what it should b e, and try to make the game safer for players.
“The definition of charging, the definition of Rule 48. We’re going to look at it.”
= On penalizing teams and coaches for multiple time offenders:
“I think it’s a great idea.
“Absolutely, I think suspensions are something we have to look at. Fines to the times are very valid. The teams have to feel it as well. The team has to make that decision to employ that type of player, and the player has to make the decision if he wants to play that way and all of a sudden their owner’s going to be paying money.”
= On Sid calling for ban of hits to head:
“My position is there should be no head hits. That’s the position of the Penguins, that’s mine, and I brought it up today in our group. Everybody has varying degrees of what is a headshot. You look at all these videos and there are a lot of different hits. But at the same time there are over 50,000 hits in a year. If there are 10 or 20 questionable ones, is that going to take the fabric of our game away? We’re still going to have 49,892 hits in our game and it’s not going to change that much I don’t think.
“We talk about having 75 percent of players coming from these developmental leagues that have that headshot rule. I don’t go to a college game and say, ‘There’s not enough hitting.’ This is part of the discussion, and other managers have good ideas.
“We’ve got to look at charging as a call that’s hardly ever made anymore. Maybe we have to redefine what charging is.”
= On pre-established minimum for suspension:
“I’m real supportive of looking at that. Every hit is different. I could be a sucker punch. What’s a sucker punch? It’s a minimum of X; if you do it, you know you’re looking at a minimum of X games. If you have a secondary fight after an initial altercation, like we did with the Islander game – a player gets in one altercation, it’s over, skates down and gets into another altercation; that should be a minimum of something.
“Let’s be honest, a long time ago people sat in the room and said, ‘These bench-clearing brawls, they’re not great. How about we just say the first guy who leaves the bench we’ll give him 10 games.’ Well, somebody came up with that at some point. We’re going to come up something. This game’s evolving, and we’ve got to change with it.
“We’re going to find out (if there is an appetite). Certainly in terms of the team’s facing fines, the Penguins are very, very supportive of that.”
= On Pens view of banning head shots being embraced:
“It’s hard to say right now because we just got into these breakout groups, but I do, from a year ago, think yeah. I haven’t talked with him, but I read what Bryan Murray said the other day. He’s changed his opinion from a year ago. You’re allowed to change your opinion, which is good either way. More and more people might be feeling that way. More people might be coming to the middle, other guys might be still, ‘Hey, listen; leave it in the game, it’s part of the game.’ IN the next couple of days we’ll sort that out.”
NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN’S STATEMENT
With respect to this morning’s session of the general managers, let me give you an update. The fact is we spent most of the morning going through and extensive present on concussions in the game. If there is one thing that is clear, there is no one single thing causing concussions. In fact, the trend as to why concussions happen is different than what a lot of people are suggesting or speculating. This was an extensive, in-depth presentation of virtually all of the concussions that have taken place this season. It was rather surprising to a number of GMs in the room, but not surprising to us, because we have been tracking it.
So, for example, 26 percent are caused accidentally, pucks to head, colliding with each other, players tripping and banging their heads. 44 percent are from what we call legal hits and that means body hits principally. So 70 are from either accidental causes or legal hits. 17 are from illegal hits, 8 percent from fighting and 14 percent from illegal hits to the head. What this tells you is that there is no one silver bullet to what is causing concussions. 17 percent of all concussions are caused by illegal hits and that is down from 26 percent.
It’s a long-winded way of telling you that this notion that the players have no respect for each other and the players are going around hitting each other in the head on a regular basis and that is what is causing concern just isn’t accurate. Since the focus of these meetings has always been player safety, we
recognize that this is an important issue and it is one constantly through the years that we have devoted attention, resources, time and money to make sure that we are doing everything possible to make sure the players are playing in as safe conditions as possible. Having said that, this is a fast physical game and as a result you are always going to have some injuries and we want to do everything we can to minimize them.
The statistics I’ve given you are really to tell you there is no magic bullet in dealing with this. I know it is an emotional, intense subject, especially for our fans. We understand it, we get it; but dealing with this issue is not something you can just do whimsically or emotionally, you really have to understand what is going on. I think this morning’s session gave the managers an excellent sense of exactly how to focus on these issues.
From a general manager’s standpoint, we broke up into 3 small groups to have a good discussion in terms of focusing on what are the issues and how to address the issues, focusing again on how to make the game as safe as possible for the players. These deliberations and discussions will continue tomorrow and we hope to be in position to have some recommendations or at least some sense of how the managers want to continue to approach this and whether or not they think any rule changes would be app from our standpoint.
In the interim, there are a series of steps that we have been working on from a league perspective to address the issue of player safety. First there is the issue of equipment. Brendan Shanahan will continue to lead the effort with the Players Association to see what we can do to get equipment, perhaps a little smaller. We don’t want jeopardize player protection but we want to make sure equipment isn’t too large and in a position to make players in a position where the hits that they do can do more damage.
= Two, the concussion protocol has been revised to ensure that a player showing certain symptoms or being involved in certain situations is taken off the ice into a quiet place to be evaluated by a team physician under the SCAT 2 procedures. As you may recall, we are the first league that has had a protocol for the diagnosis and return to play decisions. We are the first sports league to do baseline testing with respect to concussions and this is just another in a series of steps. The implementation may take a few days because we want to have discussions with the trainers and physicians that will be involved, but the protocol has been amended and it will be enforced. We will monitor that it is being complied with and if it is not, appropriate sanctions will be coming.
=Third, I will be discussing at the Board of Governors in June that I intend to, for next season, provide that clubs will ultimately be responsible for the acts of their players. So that if a player or players are subject to repeat disciplinary procedures that result in sup discipline, it will be the club, and perhaps the coach, that will be held responsible.
= Fourth, and this is new for this week in light of what happened in Montreal, we are in the process of seeking to retain a safety engineer to evaluate the playing area and see what we can do to soften it up. We have either agreed or required all the clubs that don’t currently have Plexiglas as opposed to seamless in the ends switch over to Plexiglas. There are 6 of those clubs that will switch over. There are 5 clubs that have seamless on the sides and we are going to look as to whether or not we are going to go to all Plexiglas next year. The safety engineer is going to be looking at what actually can be done with the playing environment to soften it up. In the interim, I have asked the clubs to consult with their buildings to see what they can identify in the short term that can make the player environment safer even in the interim.
= Fifth, to continue the work that is going on here today to work with the players’ association to report back to the GMs the competition committee and ultimately the Board, there will be an ongoing committee to look at these issues consisting of Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Joe Nieuwendyk and Steve Yzerman. If there is a common thread among the 4 of those people it is one in addition to now being senior NHL or club officials, they are Hall of Fame-eligible, quality players that have played the game in the rules coming back from the work stoppage.
Our concerns in this area our not new, our efforts in this area are not new, this is an area that we have been consistently vigilant on and we will continue or our efforts and our vigilance in trying to insure that our players are safe as possible. Having said that, we now have a situation to deal with. We’ll analyze it, make sure we are responding appropriately to the extent we can; because, as I said, player safety is of paramount importance and not something that we take lightly.
= Bettman’s Q&A with media:
Q: Does the concussion protocol outlined take effect immediately?
A: Well, we’re going to … The concussion protocol has been in effect. We’re now revising it and we probably need a few days because we’re going to need some conference calls with the physicians and the trainers to make sure they understand what to do. But once we can fully implement it, which will be in the next few days, it will be in effect.
Q: If a player is on the ice and gets hit and obviously can’t maintain his balance?
A: He’s going to be taken to a quiet place to be evaluated under the (baseline) testing which we use. Yes, it will be done by the doctor.
Q: You talk about the 44 percent of concussions caused by illegal hits. Presumably, if a rule was changed regarding head shots, that percentage would change.
A: Most of those legal hits are not to the head. They’re body checks that either from the whiplash or the secondary contact with either the ice or the board and the glass is causing the concussions. In fact, the number of … Let’s see if I have it here … The percentage is … 26 percent of concussions are caused by legal body checks. I think there were twice as many legal body checks resulting in concussions than head shots. Headshots is a small piece. Legal headshots, which you’re assuming could be made illegal, is a small piece of the equation.
Q: What was your reaction to the threat from Air Canada last week, and how much concern is there about losing sponsors if this isn’t addressed in an adequate way?
A: I believe that the people at Air Canada are fans of the game and their concerns about player safety are no different than our concerns about player safety.
Q: And concerns about losing sponsors?
A: I’m not concerned.
Q: After last year’s meetings there were tangible changes and rules put in. Do you feel there is latitude within the rules that are currently written, maybe some wiggle room to make the game safer without rewriting the rules? Is there an appetite for enforcement changing as opposed to rewriting the rules?
A: Well, when you talk about rewriting rules or enforcement changing, either one requires the enunciation of clear standards that both the players understand and that the officials understand and can call on the ice. And so because as you’ll see from the statistics beyond the ones I gave you, this is a very complicated subject. We want to preserve the essential elements of our game, including its physical nature. We’re not looking to fundamentally change our game. We’re looking to make it safer. And so you can’t do that in a haphazard manner, and you just don’t run off and do it in the middle of a season. What you want to do is make sure that you’re identifying the issue you’re trying to address and that what you do in response will address that issue without fundamentally changing the game in ways that were never intended. We’re not going to hurtle through this just to get it done. The key is to get it right. That’s why we spent all the time today going over the data and making sure the managers were comfortable, that they had a handle on all of the issues and the underlying information that we had, and that’s why there were preliminary discussions in small groups today and there were be more tomorrow, to at least begin focusing on what the issues are. For example, it may be that the managers conclude that we need to focus on boarding and charging because that’s a bigger cause of concussions under the rules now as they’re currently applied and construed than something else, and so that’s why we’re not just running off to give you what I’ve called a magic bullet or a silver bullet because that doesn’t exist.
Q: What is your reaction to the letter that Geoff Molson sent?
A: I received the letter. I think Mr. Molson and I agree that player safety is an important issue. But that’s not news from our standpoint. I never doubted that would be something that he and I would agree on.
Q: Two-part question: In your personal opinion, the hit from Chara to Pacioretty, is that a hit that should be legal that is OK for hockey, according to you? And second part, was it addressed, is there a certain concern it took the pressure – whether if a player doesn’t get up, if something really bad happens to a player, if a player dies on the ice or whatever – has anybody addressed that this morning and said we need to get this done before this happens?
A: The issue was that we believe, all of us in the room, those of us in the league office and the general managers, believe that anything we can do to enhance player safety is important to do. With respect to whether or not supplemental discipline should have been imposed on Chara, I took a poll of the general managers and overwhelmingly they believe that the right decision was made in that case and that no supplemental discipline should have been imposed.
Q: What you said about teams potentially being held accountable and coaches as well, what led to that and why is that important?
A: That’s not a new novel concept. We fined the Islanders for a game that we thought was out of control, and this is something that Coli and Brendan Shanahan and I have been talking about for months. The notion is, if there is a situation or a club where this seems to be out of the norm, something that continues to happen on a repeated basis, it should be addressed.
Q: The Crosby concussion, was at least the initial hit considered one of the accidental hits? And what is the discussion about those accidental hits? Is just an unfortunate byproduct of the game, or is there some discussion about how to bring down that number?
A: Well, two things on that: Even as you go through the statistics and you see what the data shows, there can be a particular incident where you might say, ‘I disagree with that.’ And there may be some of those. But the trend overall is pretty clear. So whether or not the percentage is 44 percent or 42 percent, one or two hits isn’t going to make a difference, and the sense was that was an accidental collision. Unfortunate, but that was the case. We are looking at … Some of the collisions involved teammates on the same team. Some of those accidental hits involved a player tripping and banging his head on the ice or on the boards and glass. Some of it is a puck to the head. And so again, there is no one single cause that you can look at. Now, having said that, if you’re looking at player safety, then you look for example at boarding or charging and say, ‘OK, it may be legal now, but maybe there’s a type of hit that we’re not comfortable with from a safety standpoint. Maybe we can tinker with that and make a change there.’ And that’s what the discussions have been about.
HURRICANES GM JIM RUTHERFORD
= On concussions:
“Certainly when you’re dealing with a player’s head that’s a very serious matter. That’s what we’re dealing with at this meeting. I will say that I feel the league has done an outstanding job at this point, making us aware of everything and having experts to give them advice. We had a very good discussion in our breakout group this morning. I really hope that once all the groups get together we can try to make things better if that’s possible.”
= On ideas discussed:
“I don’t think there are any you haven’t heard before. Some of these instances are happening along the boards, a little ways from the boards where the players end up getting hit into the boards. The boarding, and charging and actual contact to the head are things we’ve talked about.
It’s not easy. We all get to watch it, you get to watch it when it’s slowed down about ten times over and I don’t think it’s as simple as just black and white. There’s a simple answer of fixing this totally. Can we make it better? Maybe, hopefully we can do that by the time Wednesday comes around.
= On GMs having open minds:
“Yes. Most definitely. I really liked the way the managers are approaching this. Yes.”
= On seamless glass for non-seamless glass:
“We’re talking about the players equipment, the arenas – are there ways to make it safer for the players? It’s all about the safety for the players and there are several ways of doing it.”
CANADIENS GM PIERRE GAUTHIER
= On the feel of an appetite for change:
“Yes, I do. I think we’ve had a very good first morning. Our league officials had a very, very strong and in depth presentation to support the discussion or to get the discussion going. I get the feeling both from the league officials and certainly the general managers is that there is a definite will to improve the situation and to make our game safer.
= On message to Montreal fans:
“I would say to them exactly what I just said, there is a will to make the game safer. I can tell you the presentation the league made today was prepared well before this (Pacioretty) incident happened and so were the representations we were making to league officials. A lot of people have seen that we have a great game, we have a fast game and we have really improved the game with our new rules, but one of the things that has crept in is that there are some collisions at full speed. We need to address that fact. we need to adjust. I think there is definitely a will amongst the group here to do something.
“I think the discussions have been focused, to put it in general terms, to lower the threshold between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and we have the ability to do that. those are adjustments. Our game is great. We don’t need to change the game. What we need to do is or what we hope to do is make the game safer for the players without changing the entertainment value of the game. We’ve got a great product. the shortest and simplest way to explain it is we need to address where we draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
“I think the resolve is strong enough that we will look at a lot of areas and maybe that’s one of them. I think the discussions will keep going, but the fact that there is a strong will to adjust I think is very good news and that’s really all we can report on this morning.
LIGHTNING GM STEVE YZERMAN
= On his concussion experience as a player:
“I don’t know that I was every medically diagnosed (with one) by a doctor. If you looked up my medical records, I don’t know that you’d find a concussion in there. I can self-diagnose myself and say maybe I had one here or there.”
= On change in awareness with time:
“It’s changed dramatically, I think even in just the last two seasons. … Everything from diagnosis to treatment to rehabilitation, everything has changed.”