Spector: NHL committees laughably inefficient

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA. (CP/Chris Young)

Back in 2003, after a lengthy and diligent study, the National Hockey League’s Injury Analysis Panel concluded that hard, bulbous moldings on elbow and shoulder pads were more likely to cause injury than soft Styrofoam, when applied directly to an opponent’s head.

Hard is more likely to injure than soft, the data showed. Another unintended finding, in documents obtained by sportsnet.ca at the time, showed fire to be hot.

Yes, nobody does committees like the NHL.

Over the years, we have been blessed with such entities as the NHL/NHLPA Equipment Working Group, the Joint Health and Safety Committee, something called a “Blue Ribbon” committee, and various incarnations of the politically divided Competition Committee.

How many times have all sides convened for “frank and open discussion of the issues”? And how many times has anything tangible occurred?

The Never Hurry League has been fretting over the same equipment issues for most of two decades now, knowing that most of the time – because of the possibility of litigation – any findings that these many panels and study groups may come across may not be binding.

Like this one: A full decade ago, after a study period of approximately two seasons, the league and its players’ union “discovered” that it is, in fact, safer for players to receive a brand new helmet each season, rather than using last year’s model. Of course, they could not – and still cannot – force a player to wear a new helmet each year.

Because if he did and that player was concussed, he could sue the league for having made him change helmets.

Still, after much furrowing of its collective brow, credit is due the NHL for having developed empirical statistical data establishing that new is better than old. If only a guy could command a study of that length before his wife goes furniture shopping.

This week the NHL and NHLPA finally agreed to grandfather in the wearing of visors.

Had it been up to the league, they would have done so years ago. All you have to do is consider how many owners doled out paycheques to players who were on injured reserve with a facial injury that might have been prevented by a visor.

But like the new helmets, apart from the union having bargained the right to be part of the process, the league requires the players’ association to sign off on all equipment changes for legal reasons. They’ll tell you this is in the spirit of cooperation. We’re told, however, the more important factor is the sharing of culpability.

Heretofore, if a player somehow gets injured because of the visor on his helmet, the NHLPA is as complicit in installing the new rule as is the league. In fact, as a member of the union, some would argue that the player may forfeit his right to sue, as a member of that union.

Either way, the visors mandate is being heralded as progress, even though the two sides had to wait until nearly four out of every five NHLers were already wearing visors to push it through.

It is a process that began years ago, but was completely dependent on the NHLPA’s cooperation to come to fruition. And one wonders: How do companies in the real world mandate safety glasses for their employees, without years of haggling with the union?

The same process has bogged down the downsizing of goalie equipment, even though it has been plainly obvious for most of two decades that the inflated gear is intended to stop pucks rather than protect the person underneath all the paraphernalia.

It has been nearly 20 years after Patrick Roy debuted his clown pants and a jersey purchased at Tent City; since Garth Snow and J.S. Giguere and Glenn Healy and every other goalie in the ’90s laughed quietly at the poor fellows sent to measure their gear on behalf of another neutered NHL equipment committee.

And on Wednesday morning, behind the stock visual of a ridiculously tall goalie pad, we heard the TV commentator’s voice warned cheating goalies to “Watch out, you cheating goalies.”

Yes, some two decades after the crime was perpetrated, the hockey police have showed up on the scene, looking for evidence the rest of the hockey world has been examining for most of two decades.

They’ll form a sub-committee that will be tasked with making future decisions on equipment – everything from goalie pads to shoulder pads and helmets. We can’t wait.

Because we’d all agree: The NHL and NHLPA need another joint committee.

Mark Spector is a senior columnist for sportsnet.ca. Follow him @SportsnetSpec.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.