NHL says goalie concussion protocol improving, despite controversies

In the last two months, there have been three incidents that have given people pause about the NHL’s goalie concussion protocol.

The first was Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes, who was forced from a game due to the protocol despite not having a concussion. “What stops a fourth liner from going and bumping into a goalie? It’s just a two-minute penalty to get your starting goalie out? I don’t think it’s happened in a playoff game yet, but I’m sure it will,” he said.

Then there was Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, who took a Shea Weber slap-shot to the mask. Given that a Shea Weber slap-shot could tear the fabric of space and time themselves, many expected Crawford would leave the game. He did not. “If Crawford taking a Weber slap shot to the head doesn’t qualify as grounds for temporary removal, what does?” asked Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune.

Then there was the Freddie Andersen injury for the Toronto Maple Leafs, where a cryptic message from coach Mike Babcock about “other team’s doctor” forcing him from the game was seen to be a criticism of the protocol as well.

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Look, if there’s anything we know about player safety in the NHL, it’s that players and teams say one thing and then do another.

They ask for better protection for players at the same time they’re running another guy head-first into the glass. They ask for better concussion prevention at the same time players lie about their health and teams complain about the protocol taking key players off the ice for precautions. They want a fair Department of Player Safety while keeping victims out of practice to manipulate suspensions and by eventually, if not already, doing what Mike Smith proclaimed, which is using a fourth-liner to force the NHL to remove a goalie for health concerns in a key game.

(Of course, whether the NHL would actually follow through on that is another story. Just like penalties, one assumes there are postseason standards for concussions spotters, too.)

At this point, the best we can hope for when it comes to concussion protocol and the goalies is for common sense to prevail and for the spotters to better understand when a goalie should or should not leave the game.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the League believes the goalie protocol is improving, but reiterated that the NHL isn’t developing a separate set of standards for goalies in the protocol.

“We had a concussion subcommittee meeting in New York last Thursday. The protocol was addressed, and it was the unanimous consensus of that committee that we can’t have a different protocol for goalies than we have for normal position players. So there’s going to be no change in the protocol,” he said on NHL Network Radio on Tuesday.

As for the spotters making the right call on goalies, especially in the postseason, Daly said they’re understanding more about how to evaluate a goalie in each game.

“As the season has gone on, our central spotters have become more familiar with how goaltenders react in certain situations, and are in a better position to apply the protocol than they were earlier in the season. Everybody understands the significance [of this] for the playoffs, but there’s not going to be any change in the protocol. Safety is the priority, and it will continue to be the priority,” he said.

“It’s 100 percent behavior. That’s what some people don’t understand. It really has nothing to do with being hit in the head, per se. It’s what happens after the hit in the head. The slow-to-get-up, the clutching of the head, the motor coordination. The Crawford situation is one where he took a puck to the head, but showed no signs of motor function [issues]. And he didn’t have a concussion, so he wasn’t removed from the game.”

Daly called it “an evolving process” but that the NHL is “for the most part we’re pleased with the way it’s worked this year.”

Again, we’re in this position because (a) the NHL is facing a massive lawsuit over head trauma and their alleged negligence in addressing it and (b) because players and teams can’t be trusted to put aside their egos and competitive aims for the sake of long-term health. It’s another example of the constant opposing forces in an inherently violent sport: The concern for safety and integrity vs. the amoral lust for competitive advantages.

And as they collide, you have people like Henrik Lundqvist wondering what the hell is going to happen in the postseason if someone comes crashing in on him.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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