Turns out NHL concussion spotters are toothless

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman pauses responds to questions during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)

When news hit that the NHL was going to improve its “concussion spotters” program this season, there was a bit of confusion. 

How many spotters per game? Who pays them? Who trains them, and how will they be trained? And would the NHL follow the plan laid out by the NFL’s “Julian Edelman Rule” and allow these spotters to order players showing symptoms to the dressing room for evaluation?

Let’s tackle these questions, as NHL.com's Dan Rosen and Steve Whyno of the Canadian Press spoke with Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner, to get to the bottom of this thing:

Q. How many spotters per game?

There will be two spotters for each game, one for each team. The thing is that “each team maintains the right to designate its own concussion spotter for each game,” according to Rosen, “however, the NHL has designated a network of people, two at each arena, to serve as League-designated spotters.”

Q. So why would any team in the League ask for an independent spotter rather than their own spotter, seeing as how their own spotter is on their payroll and presumably looking out for the best interests of the team rather than the health of the players?

Daly, to the Canadian Press:

"It was really an effort to provide an extra tool or an extra alternative for our clubs in performing the spotter function," Daly said by phone Wednesday. "The whole concept of the spotter is to help the trainer and to help other club medical personnel who might not see a given play or really see the results of a given play and really just give them a heads up at what happened."

Here’s Daly, to NHL.com: 

"By introducing League-employed-and-trained spotters, we are simply providing our clubs with another alternative to adequately and properly execute the spotter responsibility.”

"Most clubs so far have indicated a preference to continue with a club-spotter approach, but certainly there will be situations where a club will opt to utilize the League spotter."

We assume he means those situations when the club designated spotter is stuck on line for beer at the start of the period, because we have absolutely no idea why a team wouldn’t have its own person trying to spot concussions.

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Q. So what do the NHL-trained spotters do?

According to Rosen, regardless if the spotter is selected by the team. 

The League-designated spotter at that game will log incidents of players exhibiting one or more visible signs of a concussion, regardless of whether the player receives medical attention of any kind. The information logged by the League's concussion spotters, regardless of whether they are on team duty for a game, must be sent back to the NHL by the first of each month.

It’s The First Of Tha Monnnnnnth!

Bone Thugs
Bone Thugs

But if the spotter is used by the team, then they have “a two-way radio in order to communicate what he or she has seen with the training staff on the bench to properly notify a team of a player demonstrating possible signs of a concussion.”

Q. Oh, so it’s like the Julian Edelman Rule, and the spotters can demand that a player leave the ice for evaluation if he’s showing signs of having been concussed?

Whoa now, this is the NHL, not some post-apocalyptic police state, President Snow!

The spotter is literally just spotting players who look like they have a concussion. And then they radio down to the bench to tell the trainer this. But the ultimate decision on whether to “quiet room” the player is still up to the teams and players that are totally ignoring that protocol with regularity. The spotter has no power to mandate that the player leave the ice, like they do in the NFL.

"Depending on the nature of what is reported to him, the trainer has the next call on whether the player needs to be removed for evaluation," said Daly to NHL.com.

Or as Steve Whyno wrote for the Canadian Press:

In the NFL, concussion spotters now have the authority to stop games if they see a player exhibiting visible signs of a concussion. Daly said it will be different in the NHL because the focus is usually on the end of a play with a player on the bench at the time.

"You're not really in a position where you're going to have to stop games," Daly said. "But clearly there are some visible signs which a club is mandated to remove a player from the game for evaluation."

But not mandated by an NHL official in the arena at that time.

Q. So it’s basically the same system as before, only the NHL is going to have its own spotters in the arena to record data and radio to the trainers, if in fact the teams opt to use them, which they won’t?

It would seem that way, except the NHL also said that this season will be one where they see “how the spotter program is functioning and whether it is doing what we designed it to do,” said Daly.

Q. Isn’t it entirely possible that the NHL decides the best course of action is to take the “spotter power” away from team employees and take over the concussion protocol with its own empowered game officials, to ensure that teams and players aren’t willfully ignoring it, thus creating a hockey "Julian Edelman Rule" like we all thought this was going to be in the first place?

Yes. Over the next three decades, this is entirely possible.

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