SBD/March 21, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Air Canada Says NHL's Five-Point Plan Is Improvement, But More Needs To Be Done

Air Canada calls NHL's five-point plan for head injuries a step in right direction
Air Canada Friday said that the NHL's five-point plan to deal with head injuries is "an improvement, but that more has to be done," according to the CP. The airline "threatened to pull its sponsorship of the league" after Bruins D Zdeno Chara "escaped suspension for his March 8 hit on Montreal's Max Pacioretty that sent the Canadiens forward to [the] hospital with a concussion and a broken vertebra." Air Canada said of the league's new five-point plan, "It is a step in the right direction to get our national game to where it needs to be and to permit Air Canada to continue supporting NHL hockey." The airline "came under fire in some hockey circles for its threat, but the airline adds the response has been mostly positive." Air Canada said, "The overwhelming majority view is that while hockey is a physical sport, the devastating consequences of dangerous head shots and career or life threatening concussions must, and can, be avoided" (CP, 3/18).

STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION? In Minneapolis, Michael Russo wrote of the new policy for dealing with head injuries, "You've got to commend the NHL for trying to get ahead of the curve. The problem with the new protocol is there are a lot of gray areas. First, concussion symptoms often arise well after the initial blow." Another problem is that "having the other team's paid doctors deciding whether another team's player can return to a game opens the door to an appearance of impropriety" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/20). In Toronto, Dave Perkins wrote, "Despite vows of sincerity on the issue, there apparently is no climate for someone in authority to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.' ... When it comes to head shots and injuries, the NHL talks the talk, but doesn't walk at all" (TORONTO STAR, 3/20). In Montreal, Stu Cowan wrote under the header, "NHL's Inaction Is Beyond Puzzling" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/20). In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote, "We don't question that the league and team personnel care about the safety of their players, but using the 'Fabric of the Game' card to avoid making the singular change of outlawing all direct blows to the head that is inevitable, is a bit insulting six years after the post-lockout rules dramatically changed its fabric" (N.Y. POST, 3/20). But in Toronto, Cathal Kelly wrote NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, "faced with a wave of panic emanating," decided the "right sort of change was very little change at all." Kelly: "And in this instance at least, he got it right. ... Right now, by his actions, no one is proving a better defender of the NHL's century old traditions than Bettman" (TORONTO STAR, 3/20).

ZERO TOLERANCE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor noted Sabres GM Darcy Regier is the NHL's "leading dove, one of three general managers who speak openly of banning all hits to the head," along with the Penguins' Ray Shero and the Hurricanes' Jim Rutherford. Regier is "one of a larger group who argued, successfully, for the steps taken so far: last year's Rule 48, which banned blindside hits, and this year's decision to have a doctor rather than a trainer determine the seriousness of a hit to the head." They also "led the push" for last week's decision to "begin calling more boarding and charging penalties next season." Regier: "For me, the goal is to eliminate concussions. I could say, 'Reduce those 100 to 20, or to 10,' but the goal should be to eliminate entirely. I think ultimately we have to take a 360 approach (full protection from all sides) to protect the head" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/19). A PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE editorial states, "We believe a zero tolerance approach is necessary." NHL hockey is a "tough game played by tougher men, but that doesn't mean risky practices should be tolerated. League officials need to do the right thing" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/21).
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