Hockey Sure Is Having A Lot Of Concussions Lately

The numbers are kind of insane—there are currently 25 players out with concussions, or "upper body injuries" that include "concussion-like symptoms." (That includes Rene Bourque, whose team has "no idea" when he suffered it.)

According to a CBC tally, 88 players missed 1,697 man-games with concussions last season—so these numbers aren't out of line. But the concussion crisis appears to be reaching a secondary head, born of frustration: Didn't the league address this already? Two major rule changes over the past two seasons were enacted specifically to cut down on the types of hits that lead to concussions—one extending the definition of illegal contact to the head, and another cracking down on boarding defenseless players.

There are already calls for more rules, stricter rules, arguing that the current ones aren't enough. Brad Stuart leveling Gabriel Landeskog, for example, was deemed by disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to be just on the legal side of borderline:




And Milan Lucic's boarding of Rick Nash wasn't even reviewed by the league:




The problem's not with the rules—the two specific ones cited above give Shanahan the leeway to hand out discipline in these cases, but he chose not to. It sounds like a cop-out, but hits like these remain part of the game—and unless the league wants to radically overhaul the pace of play or the size of the rink, stronger and faster players mean even totally legal hits are going to cause concussions.

It's entirely possible concussions are down, but better identification and reporting of them is more than making up for the dip. While NHL teams are not required to share injury information with the media, the league tells the Bergen Record that no one's hiding anything.

"There is transparency in relation to the reporting of concussions internally," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said via email. "The appropriate people both at the League and the PA (along with our medical professionals) have access to all the information they need to adequately analyze causes and trends, as well as appropriate management standards for head injuries."

Ten years ago, players hid concussions from their teams, teams hid them from the media, and the league hid them from everyone. Now, with awareness at an all-time high thanks to cultural shifts beyond hockey, it's the rare concussion that doesn't find its way to the local paper and the national blog. When you see the CBC's concussion tally, the important news isn't the number of players on it—it's that people are now keeping track.

Concussion prevention is important, but the sport features armored men skating upwards of 25 MPH, sometimes into one another. Absolute prevention is impossible. Concussion treatment—identifying and treating the symptoms, being cognizant of long-term effects, not rushing players back—is the space for advancement, along with better technology and greater awareness. Head injuries are not something that can be removed from hockey, but accepting them as a fundament and not an aberration is a major step toward keeping them from destroying lives.