SBD/March 15, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Gary Bettman Details New Five-Point Strategy For Dealing With NHL Head Injuries

NHL will create committee of current execs who once played to study safety issues
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday after the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., "detailed the league's new five-point strategy to deal with head injuries," according to Roy MacGregor of the GLOBE & MAIL. The league's concussion protocol "will shift from a player being checked on the bench by the team trainer to that player being removed to 'a quiet place' to be examined by a physician." The NHL BOG this summer "will discuss making clubs 'ultimately' responsible for the acts of their players." The league will "retain a 'safety engineer' mandated to 'soften up' the playing area, specifically hard boards and glass -- a direct response to the devastating check last week" by Bruins D Zdeno Chara on Canadiens LW Max Pacioretty. Meanwhile, NHL VP/Hockey & Business Development Brendan Shanahan "will work with the players' association on improved equipment." The league also will create a new committee composed of Shanahan, NHL Hockey Operations Manager Rob Blake, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, all former players, who will "study safety issues and the league's 'new rules,' which were instituted in 2005 to speed up the game" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/15). Bettman said that "implementation of the protocol 'may take a few days' to allow team trainers and doctors to become familiar with it." He added that there "will be 'appropriate sanctions' for teams that do not comply." The protocol was developed with the NHLPA (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15). NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "feels the league has begun to move in the right direction with initiatives to improve player safety." Fehr said in a statement, "The NHLPA is pleased that we have reached an agreement with the NHL regarding clarification of the Concussion Evaluation and Management Protocol" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/15).

LEMIEUX LETTER: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote the NHL's announcement yesterday that it "will ponder fines to teams with repeat offenders should find a supporter" in Penguins co-Owner Mario Lemieux, who "sent a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last week calling for that kind of action." An NHL source said that the idea "had already been in the works for a long time before Lemieux suggested it in his letter last week, although one has to assume given Lemieux's stature in the game that his thoughts on the matter carried some weight" (ESPN.com, 3/14). Bettman: "There is no magic bullet in dealing with this. I know it is an emotional, intense subject, especially for our fans. We understand it, we get it; but dealing with this issue is not something you can just do whimsically or emotionally, you really have to understand what is going on" (TORONTO STAR, 3/15). Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke: "Now we have to see if there are other things we have to change on the ice surface that will make it safer -- without changing the fabric of our game" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/15).

STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes with "concerned sponsors swamping the league's head offices with phone calls," the NHL "desperately needed to get out in front of the issue." Cox added of the five-point program unveiled yesterday, "Some of it was new, some of it was old, some of it may never happen and some of it didn't make a whole lot of sense. But it was action, definable action you could write down on a piece of paper. Bettman needed to be seen as a commissioner in charge, and he succeeded -- at least partially" (TORONTO STAR, 3/15). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "You have to credit commissioner Gary Bettman for moving decisively to put the NHL sky back in its place" (ESPN.com, 3/14).

CLEARING THE AIR: The CP reported Canadiens Owner Geoff Molson yesterday met privately with the team and explained "why he issued a public letter last week in which he blasted the league and said safety must become a top subject at the ongoing general managers' meeting." He also tried to "reassure his players Monday that safety improvements were coming to the Bell Centre." Molson "laid out some of his proposals for making the game safer," including replacing the "notoriously rigid glass" at the arena. The Canadiens said that they have been "planning for months to replace that glass," but that the team "can't proceed because it's awaiting league approval" (CP, 3/14). Bell Centre is "one of six NHL arenas ... whose rink is bordered by rigid boards topped with hard, seamless tempered glass" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/15).
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