SBD/January 20, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Study Finds NHL Loses $218M Annually To Injuries, Concussions Among Most Costly

NHL players sidelined by concussions cost teams $42.8M on average each year
A study scheduled to be published today by British medical journal Injury Prevention estimates that NHL teams and their insurers paid about $653M in salary to "players sidelined by concussions and other injuries over three recent seasons," according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. The study's co-author, neurosurgeon Michael Cusimano of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said that the high cost of paying injured NHL players "should push the league to stiffen what he described as inadequate measures to prevent brain trauma, including rules that still allow fighting." Researchers from St. Michael's and the Univ. of Toronto conducted the study, which estimated that during the '09-10, '10-11 and '11-12 seasons, teams and their insurers paid injured players "an average" of $218M. The study states that of the 1,307 players who appeared in at least one game, 63% "missed time to injury." They found that concussions "were among the most financially costly injuries," amounting to $42.8M in "annual wages paid to sidelined players." Klein notes on-ice behavior in the NHL "has changed noticeably, with players often declining to make heavy checks on opponents in vulnerable positions." Teams also have "followed concussion protocols far more strictly." But Cusimano called the measures "giving lip service" to player safety (N.Y. TIMES, 1/20). The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor notes while leg and foot injuries "were most costly" during the sample period, head and neck injuries "were close behind." Cusimano believes that head and neck injuries represent "the one area where the most improvement can be made" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/20). Cusimano said, "There's been a lot of resistance in the past from the NHL and hockey leagues to change rules because it's sort of a given that if we take the violence out of the game, it's going to mean less revenue. ... So we wanted to understand, with the present state of affairs, what is the cost of these injuries?" (CP, 1/20).

FINES PUT TO GOOD USE: In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa noted when the NHL Department of Player Safety suspends a player, "his forfeited salary goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund." The fund "has been in existence for approximately 70 years," and its mission is to "help former players and their families who are in financial distress." Approximately 75 to 100 "receive assistance from the fund at any time." The NHL this season "has identified 33 acts worthy of fines or suspensions," with the fines totaling near $1.6M. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said of the fund, "The feedback is very positive from its recipients. It's sometimes widows or family members of former players who are now in dire need of assistance. This is viewed as a helpful assist." He added of the factors cited on applications to the fund, "Financial distress is probably the primary one. Lack of insurance, poor health, a one-time medical procedure" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/19).
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