What We Learned: NFL vs. NHL on how to handle concussion controversy

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The Super Bowl festivities of the last week gave the NFL the chance to once again step into the international spotlight and tell the world just how much it cares about the safety of its players.

That amount is "very much," it says. The league is filled with players who could get concussed at any second during any game played anywhere across the U.S.; and with all the attention now being paid to the effects that these brain injuries have not only in the immediate aftermath of their having been suffered, but years or more down the road, it's becoming more important for what is inarguably the most violent sport in the world to do all it could to show people it actually gives a rat's ass about the issue.

It doesn't, of course. Not, like, really. Because actually caring about concussions might affect the league's massive bottom line, and maybe even cut into owners' profits, and obviously we cannot have that.

Therefore, Roger Goodell, a commissioner who somehow almost makes Gary Bettman seem likable, goes out and talks at length about the NFL's concussion problem during his annual State of the League address, but anyone paying the slightest attention sees that it's all lip service. Nothing he has to say, or will force the league to do, actually does anything to change the culture that lends itself so readily to the problem. Hall of Famers like Deion Sanders saying that guys who get concussions are just milking it to keep drawing a paycheck just underscores the horrible problem the league has with how it views injuries in general. That the horrific Dan Le Batard story of Jason Taylor just about dying, and playing with a catheter so as not to miss a single game, didn't scare anyone into action tells you everything you need to know about the problem, and the NFL's myopic approach to the issue — which is to say, not doing anything — is troubling to say the least.

Again, the NFL isn't doing anything now, but it's at least getting some wheels in motion on the matter. Over the weekend, it announced a partnership with General Electric to develop ways to better protect against concussions, and detect whether they've occurred. Part of that includes contributions of $50 million over the next four years. In addition, the NFLPA finally pushed through its efforts to have independent neurologists present on sidelines during games to better assess whether players have suffered concussions during play; this after a PA survey found that 78 percent of NFLers trust their teams' medical staff "not at all," and only 43 percent consider their trainers to be "good."

So what does all this have to do with the NHL? It only scores to underscore how little the League is doing with regard to the rash of head injuries now being suffered league-wide, and to change the culture surrounding it.

In the past week or so, Gabriel Landeskog, James Wisniewski, Wayne Simmonds and Shawn Thornton all suffered apparent concussions during games. Landeskog on a legal hit, Wisniewski when his teammate ran into him and he went flying into the end boards, Simmonds when he got elbowed in the face, and Thornton when John Scott punched him in the head a bunch of times.

It's very troubling. One suspects the only reason the NHL isn't being confronted with the same kind of questions, and sneering derision, the NFL does with its concussion policy is that in the national sports landscape, no one cares about the NHL.

Imagine, for example, if the NFL had instituted an admirable program like the NHL's "quiet room" to evaluate players after they got their bells rung. Cheers all around, even if it was only precipitated by the league's biggest star getting concussed at least once in the space of a week, if not twice.

Then imagine the furor when the NFL quietly did away with the Quiet Room, as the NHL did, mostly because it wasn't working as it was intended. Guys want to play through getting hit in the head, and a lot of the time they feel fine in the immediate aftermath because concussion symptoms can take as long as a few days. No trainer or doctor employed by the team, it's been said, is going to tell NHL Star X that he can't play when he says he can.

And please note, by the way, that in getting rid of the Quiet Room, the NHL actually now lags behind the NFL in its approach to concussions. No partnership with GE, no independent neurologists. Just the hope all this goes away and guys don't get concussed. Plus, at least the NFL has some pretty clear penalties for hitting guys in the head. In the NHL, we have to break down video frame by frame to see if the head was the principal point of contact or if maybe a checker brushed up against a checkee's chest for one or two 24ths of a second before he drove his shoulder into his face and gave him a concussion.

If so, hey, everything's cool, Brad Stuart!

(ED NOTE: The NHL disputes that the "Quiet Room" has been eliminated. "Any player suspected of having suffered a concussion or who shows any such symptoms must be removed from the game and examined in a quiet, distraction-free environment.")

Here's where the culture part comes into all of it: Landeskog said Stuart hit him clean. The league agreed, because it didn't even have a hearing for Stuart, predicated largely on the fact that Landeskog played in the second and third periods after getting clobbered. And many — maybe even most — hockey fans are probably fine with that.

After all, if you suspend Stuart for that hit -- and I don't mean to pick on the guy since he's not part of the inherent problem -- then you're going to be assailed with accusations of "trying to make it a no-contact league." Which is of course patently ridiculous.

Everyone these days tries to hit like Scott Stevens, but if Scott Stevens played today he'd be drummed out of the league so fast it would give Raffi Torres motion sickness. You just can't do that kind of thing any more. And saying so, and legislating the rules in such a way that it might give guys pause before they try to put their shoulder through someone's "head area," isn't a bad thing.

Maybe that makes you think I'm going soft or that I don't want hitting in the game, but that's not a smart take. Understand, no one but the crassest of "This Sport is For Real Men" idiots sit there and say the NFL is ruining the sanctity of the sport, or turning it into a flag football league, just because they don't want guys hitting each other in the head. It's for the good of the game that they do not.

Personally, if it comes down to getting to watch a league with guys like Gabriel Landeskog or Sidney Crosby not getting concussed, or one with him on the sidelines because of a "clean hit," then I'm choosing the former every time.

We as hockey fans have grown rather accustomed to the NHL embarrassing itself. But when the bigger, better-known North American sports league is being scoffed at for its pitiful attempts to protect its players, while doing more for them than the NHL does, that's just mortifying.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Is it weird to anyone else that the Ducks have just one regulation loss this season? They've won three of their last four, with a shootout loss to San Jose mixed in there, behind the weirdest assortment of players. Saturday's win over the Kings was keyed by a Nick Bonino hat trick, while the previous night's victory against Minnesota came on two goals from Kyle Palmieri. Five Ducks are on at least a point a game right now, including Dan Winnik and Saku Koivu. Bizarre.

Boston Bruins: The Boston media's weird crisis of confidence over whether the Bruins are "Tough" because John Scott gave Shawn Thornton a concussion is hilarious. Yeah Lane McDermid is the guy now. Gotta have that guy. Not like the Bruins can beat teams without fighting.

Buffalo Sabres: It's nice to see people finally realizing that Tyler Myers' spectacular rookie season was an aberration, and that he's not very good. Before the wheels really fell off for Buffalo in a 6-1 loss to Montreal Saturday, Myers had been on the ice for six of seven goals the Sabres allowed between that game and the one against Boston on Thursday. He was only on the ice for two of Florida's four yesterday though, so that's a step in the right direction.

Calgary Flames: Calgary lost 3-2 in a shootout to Chicago on Saturday but that was after flat-out dominating the game. Shots at the end of overtime were 47-19 in the Flames' favor, which is going to win far more games than it loses you, obviously, but on the other hand when you're making Ray Emery look like Dominic Hasek in his prime, that's a problem too.

Carolina Hurricanes: I really don't understand how Dan Ellis has a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage while Cam Ward's are 4.05 and .867. This has to be some sort of Freaky Friday scenario, right? Like, that is the only possible explanation?

Chicago Blackhawks: Calgary went up 2-1 on Chicago at home with 35 seconds left in the game, and immediately facetiously tweeted, "How will Kiprusoff blow this?" The answer was, "By giving up this goal to Marian Hossa with 2.1 seconds left."

Colorado Avalanche: "Without Landeskog, Avalanche has poor chance of playoffs." You can also get away with dropping the "-out."

Columbus Blue Jackets: With James Wisniewski picking up one hell of a scary concussion in Saturday's game, it fell to Jack Johnson to carry the load, and carry it he did. Johnson played 34:59 in the game, setting personal and franchise highs. It was also the most anyone has played in an NHL game since Dan Boyle played 37:03 in 2007-08. Get that guy some Gatorade.

Dallas Stars: Ray Whitney is out four to six weeks with a broken bone in his foot. Really great news for a team averaging 1.78 goals per game!

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: "Red Wings need quality forward." Yes, when I look at their roster, which now has Brendan Smith out for at least a week and a half, I say to myself, "Man, if only they had more forwards. That is their true need." Here's the money line: "Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are star players, of course, but aren't in the same class as Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos or Patrick Kane, to cite three examples." TRUE THOUGH THAT MAY BE, where on Earth does Ken Holland find a forward who's better than Datsyuk and Zetterberg? Oh man.

Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Whitney is playing like hot garbage lately. It's so bad that, when asked about the defenseman's performance, Ralph Krueger had nothing at all to say. I guess that's out of character or something. It's almost like the guy hasn't played a lot of hockey in the last year or so. Weird.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers are among the worst road teams in the NHL. Prior to yesterday's 4-3 win in Buffalo, they'd played three games away from Sunrise, lost all three of em, and 13-3. That's not very good at all.

Los Angeles Kings: "Defense falls apart as Kings lose in Anaheim." Apart from the thing about Anaheim in there, that describes all too many Kings losses this season, doesn't it? They've allowed 22 goals in seven games. That's a lot. Especially for a team that was absolutely incredible defensively last season. What happened?

Minnesota Wild: With defenseman Jared Spurgeon off to the IR, and Matt Cullen down with a little knock, the Wild called up very good prospect Charlie Coyle for his NHL debut tonight.

Montreal Canadiens: Canadiens coach Michel Therrien banned Carey Price and PK Subban from doing their patented triple low-five celebration after wins, and you know who's a big old fan of that? Don Cherry. That's how you know it's dumb.

Nashville Predators: The Predators became the first team to hand the San Jose Sharks a loss this season, but, like, it was only in the shootout so really what's even the big deal? It's not like they've won two in a row away from home. Oh they have? Okay then.

New Jersey Devils: Speaking of teams getting their first losses, the Devils got creamed by the Penguins 5-1 for their first in regulation this year, in a game that was oddly the Pens' first home win.

New York Islanders: If (when?) the Islanders fall out of playoff contention, it seems they might try to trade Mark Streit. That actually makes sense, though, so I'm not sure it'll happen.

New York Rangers: In my mind, every goal of Rick Nash's career was scored on exactly this move.

Ottawa Senators: Between Saturday night and Tuesday night, the Sens will have played three games, including two about 19 hours apart on the weekend. That's the NHL this season, get used to it.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers' power play hadn't been very good this season, going just 5 for 40 (12.5 percent) before Saturday's game with Carolina. Then it went 3 for 3. That added 6.1 percentage points to the total.

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 178 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. But despite all that ownership uncertainty, Mike Smith at least picked up his first shutout of the season, largely because the defense held Dallas to just 17 shots.

Pittsburgh Penguins: What do you mean Brandon Sutter has more goals than Jordan Staal? What do you mean he's playing top competition? What do you mean he's starting 60 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone? I thought the Hurricanes won that trade.

San Jose Sharks: How tight was that shootout loss to the Preds? Shots through one period were 8-6 San Jose and ended just 27-24 even after the overtime period. That kind of game behooves the Predators, obviously.

St. Louis Blues: Jaroslav Halak to the injured reserve with a groin strain. Precautionary stuff, but Brian Elliott being the guy for any more than a week has to be terrifying, last season aside.

Tampa Bay Lightning: In a recent survey, 22 of the 22 Lightning players polled said they would support an openly game teammate, which is cool and great.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Don't worry, Leafs fans. Phil Kessel is always not-so-good in January. It's actually his worst month throughout his career.

Vancouver Canucks: Huh, turns out this Roberto Luongo guy is pretty good after all. Weird. Wonder why they wanted to trade him so bad.

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin on only having three points in his first eight games this year, "It kind of embarrasses me." Kind of!

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have lost three straight, but the good news is they host Florida tomorrow night so that has to turn everything around, right?

Play of the Weekend

Oh my, what a pass from Corey Perry to Ryan Getzlaf.

Gold Star Award

For real though, that Red Wings article linked above is just about my favorite bit of hockey writing of 2013. I think we can shut the contest down.

"Datsyuk has never scored more than 32 goals (2008-09) in a season for the Wings or notched more than 97 points (twice, 2007-08 and 2008-09). … Zetterberg's high total for goals is 43 (2007-08) and points is 92 (same season)."

"Aging players Johan Franzen and Todd Bertucci can score a few goals, but both are streaky."

"The organization has done a remarkable job drafting top players (e.g., Datsyuk and Zetterberg) in the late rounds. But they've never been able to select that one forward who would make a difference for years."

Man is this ever great.

Minus of the Weekend

Mark Scheifele can play one more game for the Jets this season before he would have to be sent back to juniors if the NHL club doesn't want to keep him. Of course, that's only because he's been a healthy scratch the last four games. Here's the deal, then: Send him back to juniors. It's really simple. Why do this to the kid?

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "gallyisabeaut" solves everyone's brashness problems.






A car is a car but an El Camino is a way of life.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don’t you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

NHL video from Yahoo! Sports:

Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
The case of the missing Lombardi trophy
Inspiration for 'League of Their Own' character dies at 88
Top football recruit with massive Auburn tattoo re-commits to Alabama
Faceoff: Should Shawn Thornton have fought John Scott?