Headshots and concussions have been in the news over the past few months, fuelled by the hit that ended the season for Sidney Crosby, arguably the best professional hockey player in the world.
The root of Crosby’s concussion history can be separated into two distinct incidents. The first incident occurred at the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburg, when Capitals forward David Steckel’s shoulder collided with Crosby’s head. The second incident occurred only days later against the Lightning, when Victor Hedman pushed Crosby’s head into the boards.
The two episodes, paired with how closely in time they occurred, caused the end of Crosby’s 2010-2011 season at 66 points in 41 games, a performance on its way to becoming a career high. Crosby’s injury has called into doubt whether the star centre will return in time for the start of the season this fall. As for Steckel and Hedman, both hits went without a suspension following from the league office.
Crosby has been given great care on his road to recovery through the development of specialized workout routines and monitored progress over the course of the summer. The length of time needed for his recovery is unknown since each head injury is different, and this particular injury is being handled with special attention based on the status of the player in question. With these facts in mind, it is clear that action must be taken league-wide, even sport-wide, to solve the issue of concussions and prevent further injury.
The current measures undertaken by the National Hockey League are insufficient. The concussion debate comes in many forms and had been a topic of discussion much long before the incident. The issue for many, though, is the increased attention given to the topic after the Crosby injury became a reality. If the NHL had placed more of an emphasis on the issue several years ago, these incidents may never have occurred.
Most recently, Aaron Rome was suspended for the remainder of the final round of the 2011 playoffs for his hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3. Horton did not play the remainder of the games, a series that went to a Game 7 Stanley Cup Final. Another hotly discussed concussion case in the league is that of Marc Savard, a member of the Boston Bruins. Savard was blindsided by a hit from Matt Cooke of the Pittsburg Penguins on March 7, 2010. A statement from Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was released Wednesday, saying that Savard “will not play this year” and “it’s very unlikely [he] will play again”.
As for development of safer play, the Ontario Hockey League has implemented measures this season to increase safety, such as regulating soft-cap shoulder and elbow pads. This is important progress, because changes made at the junior hockey level allow players to be- come comfortable at an earlier age.
Further action must be taken to implement rules in the NHL with regard to headshots and concussions in hopes of preventing these situations from occurring again. To see any player affected by a career- altering injury is difficult to accept, but even more so when it involves a household name like Crosby.