So, you want perfection from the National Hockey League’s central concussion spotters? Considering their mandate to make the right call within seconds of an incident?
Consider where the Department of Player Safety is after all these years. On a scale between the Colin Campbell Wheel of Justice and absolute perfection, do we ever unilaterally agree on the department’s decisions?
Of course not — and Stephane Quintal’s boys have hours to slow the film down and get the call right.
So when one of the first hiccups in the league’s new concussion protocol arrives late on a Sunday evening and the league’s brightest young star is quoted as saying, “Obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling,” the hockey world takes notice.
“What about Ryan Kesler the night before? He got hit in the head and wasn’t removed?” Oilers fans wailed.
“How dare they take McDavid away with the Oilers on a power play? What if they miss the playoffs now, by a point?”
“How could McDavid be concussed? He fell on his chin?”
“That’s in the protocol,” said the NHL’s Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly, of that last point. “Of course he’s reaching for his chin [as he gets up] because he wants to know if he’s split open and he’s bleeding. He looked at his glove. It was not in a ‘clutching his head in distress’ sort of way, but the spotter interpreted it differently.
“That was [the spotter’s] judgement, and we’re paying him to make that judgement.”
“It kind of sucks,” said McDavid, “because that’s the rule. You go down and hit your head and reach up [to rub his jaw], and that’s the rule. They take you off the ice. I hit my mouth, grabbed it, and they took that as something that it wasn’t. I guess that’s the rule and the guy stuck to the script and did his job.”
A quick refresher on the process: as many as four central concussion spotters are inside the newly-expanded Player Safety room at the NHL’s New York headquarters every game night. When the player safety department spotter flags a possible concussion, they summon one of the concussion spotters to make a decision.
Each spotter is a “certified athletic trainer with elite level hockey experience,” according to Daly. They are given defined criteria of visible signs of concussion, including:
1. Lying motionless on the ice or falling to the ice without protecting himself.
2. A lack of motor coordination or balance problems.
3. Blank or vacant look.
4. Slow to get up or clutch his head/face. (If a player’s head makes contact with the ice it calls for automatic removal.)
“These guys aren’t being paid to diagnose concussions,” Daly said. “They’re paid to flag incidents that require evaluation on the basis of standards they have to apply.
“We knew going in there would be times when you and I might call something differently,” he continued. “The spotters have been told to err on the side of caution, which is the right advice. They all are required to have elite level hockey experience. You have to have a little bit of a feel for the game.”
Saturday night in Vancouver: Toronto’s Matt Martin is literally buckled by a punch from Vancouver’s Erik Gudbranson, dropping him to one knee. No protocol invoked. Earlier in the Edmonton-Minnesota game, Zack Kassian sent Minnesota’s Kurtis Gabriel to the ice in a flurry of left hands. Again, no protocol invoked.
It begs the question: When two players square off to bare-knuckle fight, wouldn’t about 75 per cent of those fights be flagged by the concussion spotter?
“Guys get hit in the head all the time. It doesn’t mean they have a visible sign of concussion,” Daly said. “When they don’t have a blank, vacant look, they don’t have motor incoordination or balance problems, then there is nothing … that suggests he be removed to be evaluated.
“Still, it’s a fair question: Do we have the right visible signs of concussion? What are they? What are they based on? And are they predictive of concussion?”
McDavid checking his chin for blood proves a red herring. Daly seems to ascent to that. But we’re two months into this thing, folks, and it’s only Game 26 on the schedule.
You think this new concussion protocol is controversial now?
Wait until June, my friend.