NHL 'comfortable' with stronger concussion spotter program

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  • Connor McDavid
    Connor McDavid
EDMONTON, AB - DECEMBER 4: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers is tripped up by Jared Spurgeon #46 of the Minnesota Wild on December 4, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers is tripped up by Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild on December 4, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Getty Images)

The NHL reportedly has no issues with its enhanced concussion spotter program, which drew criticism after a decision to pull Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid from his Sunday game against the Minnesota Wild.

In the second period McDavid was tripped by Jared Spurgeon, hit his chin on the ice and then skated off holding his mouth. The spotter had the Oilers captain pulled from the game to get tested for a concussion. McDavid voice his displeasure following the game, as did several other Oilers, since he ended up not being diagnosed with a concussion after testing.

On Monday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN that he was fine with the spotters and how they have conducted themselves this year. Before the season, the league decided to add “a new staff of Central League Spotters” who monitor games from the Player Safety room in New York and can authorize a player’s removal for evaluation for a concussion. Before, the league used in-arena spotters who had no power to force the player leave the ice for testing.

“We have no intention of changing the standards that are employed based on the situation in the game or season,” Daly said.

Added Daly later in the story, “It remains a work in progress, but yes, we are comfortable with how the new protocol is working.

“It’s always better to err on the side of caution.”

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McDavid returned but the Oilers eventually lost the game 2-1 in overtime. After the game, McDavid was upset that he couldn’t be on the ice to help his team secure a crucial two points.

“I was pretty shocked to be honest. I hit my mouth on the ice. You reach up and grab your mouth when you get hit in the mouth. It’s a pretty normal thing. Obviously, the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling and he pulled me off.

“Sh***y time in the game too, I guess. It’s a little bit of a partial five-on-three and a power play late in the second period where if you capitalize, it could change the game.

“It kind of sucks because that’s the rule. You go down, you hit your head, you reach up and that’s the rule. They take you off the ice.

“I hit my head. Well, I hit my mouth, reached up and grabbed my mouth and they took that as something that it wasn’t. I guess that’s the rule. The guy stuck to the script and did his job.”

Oilers forward Patrick Maroon seemed to believe the concussion spotter was too quick to yank McDavid.

“This is a man’s game,” Maroon said according to Sportsnet. “People are going to get hit, get high-sticked. They’re going to go through the middle and get hit. That’s part of hockey, and that’s why we have all this gear that protects us. Yes, if someone gets seriously hurt, we’re concerned. But he just fell, got tripped … I just don’t get it.”

Another story by Sportsnet where Daly was also quoted pointed out other instances where no concussion protocol was used despite potential outward signs of a head injury.

Saturday night in Vancouver: Toronto’s Matt Martin is literally buckled by a punch from Vancouver’s Erik Gudbranson, dropping him to one knee. No protocol invoked. Earlier in the Edmonton-Minnesota game, Zack Kassian sent Minnesota’s Kurtis Gabriel to the ice in a flurry of left hands. Again, no protocol invoked.

It begs the question: When two players square off to bare-knuckle fight, wouldn’t about 75 per cent of those fights be flagged by the concussion spotter?

“Guys get hit in the head all the time. It doesn’t mean they have a visible sign of concussion,” Daly said. “When they don’t have a blank, vacant look, they don’t have motor incoordination or balance problems, then there is nothing … that suggests he be removed to be evaluated.

“Still, it’s a fair question: Do we have the right visible signs of concussion? What are they? What are they based on? And are they predictive of concussion?”

Recently, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was critical of the protocol involving spotters after teammate Antti Raanta was pulled in a November game.

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“I think they really have to look into this rule because it’s not like a (skater) where you can sit out a shift,” Lundqvist said according to the Daily News. “A goalie, it’s a whole other ballgame. If he’s saying he’s fine, at some point you’ve got to go with it. I think there’s gonna be an issue if this is the playoffs and you have guys calling from upstairs to make that decision. I’m not gonna go off easy, I’m telling you that. If someone is calling to tell me I need to leave the ice and I’m feeling fine, at some point you’ve got to trust the player, because I think the goalie situation is very different compared to a skater.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!