NHL concussion test: How many fingers do you see?
The NHL just signed a new 10-year TV deal worth $2 billion. To
show his appreciation for all those who made it possible,
Commissioner Gary Bettman instructed club officials to share the
news with concussed players by holding up two fingers in front of
Maybe. But so is the way the league metes out justice come
playoff time, especially as it relates to headhunting.
In what qualifies as the most outrageous decision so far –
keeping in mind it’s only the first round – NHL chief justice Colin
Campbell whiffed on the chance to suspend serial goon Raffi Torres
of Vancouver for a vicious, blindside hit Sunday to the head of
Chicago’s Brent Seabrook.
The case against Torres was a slam-dunk; not only that, the
league already set a precedent by suspending him for nearly the
exact same offense. Torres was playing his first game back after a
four-game suspension for a similarly brutal hit on Edmonton rookie
Jordan Eberle in the regular season.
Plus, his assault on Seabrook appeared to be a textbook example
of what the league’s general managers had in mind when they drew up
Rule 48 (Illegal Check to the Head) little more than a year ago to
limit the wave of concussions sweeping across the sport.
But then Campbell got out his magnifying glass, reread the rule
and remembered that what would constitute headhunting anywhere else
on the ice – a blindside hit on a player who didn’t even have the
puck – doesn’t apply behind the net.
That exception was obscure enough that when TSN’s Darren Dreger
called nine NHL general managers to ask whether they thought Torres
should be suspended, eight replied ”yes.” Unlike Campbell, they
didn’t bother to read the fine print.
Seabrook, the Blackhawks’ second-best defenseman, was held out
of Tuesday’s game against the Canucks, which Chicago won 7-2 to
stave off elimination. The hometown hero was center Dave Bolland,
who was returning to the lineup after missing the last 17 games
himself with – what else? – a concussion.
”There was a time when I didn’t think I was going to come
back,” Bolland said after a career-best four-point night. ”You
never know when you’re going to get out of the headaches, the
”It’s pretty dreadful. To go through this thing is pretty
tough,” he added. ”We’ve got to cut down (on head shots).”
Exactly how, and how much to cut down, remains the league’s
evolving riddle. Several other leagues have already banned hits to
the head, but the NHL is still so spooked about alienating its most
macho fans that condition reports rarely provide specifics beyond
”upper” and ”lower” body injuries.
Yet the players know who’s hurting and exactly where. They also
know it’s not only the refs who swallow their whistles when the
postseason rolls around. Because playoff games make the cash
registers ring louder, the league’s disciplinarians are more
reluctant than usual to crack down and deprive a team of a player’s
services more than is necessary.
On the other hand, we’ve already had Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan
suspended two games for stomping on an opponent; and Los Angeles’
Jarret Stoll, Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie and Pittsburgh’s Chris
Kunitz all suspended for one game each after varied attacks on the
”upper body” of rivals.
The inconsistency in how the cases are handled has done more
than embolden players. It’s led to speculation that goons aren’t
just targeting the best players on opposing squads; they’re going
after those who are talented AND have a history of concussions.
Putting aside Ryan’s stomp, three of the four headhunting attempts
were made against players who had been concussed before.
You might think the league would ramp up its disciplinary
process to match the rising intensity its players bring to the
postseason. Especially after these playoffs began with Pittsburgh’s
Sidney Crosby, the game’s biggest star and arguably it’s most
exciting player, still struggling to recover from the effects of a
concussion he sustained in January.
But you’d be wrong. As the studies pile up and league officials
make a show of wringing their hands to demonstrate how concerned
they are about concussions, don’t forget they still found plenty of
time to turn their palms up and grab a fat check from NBC and
Here’s hoping that Bettman and Co. won’t have to rely on any of
those concussed players to remember which pocket they stashed it
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org