NHL to use concussion spotters at all games

Stars' Kari Lehtonen was injured with a head concussion in March 2014. 

Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

 

The NHL will have concussion spotters at all games this season to help teams identify visible signs and symptoms of the injury.

Under the league’s concussion protocol, teams have had spotters at games in the past. But deputy commissioner Bill Daly said some have found it difficult on the road to isolate one person whose sole responsibility is to keep an eye on players who may have sustained a head injury.

The decision to remove a player from a game still rests with team trainers and medical personnel, but now there’s guaranteed to be an extra pair of eyes watching.

"It was really an effort to provide an extra tool or an extra alternative for our clubs in performing the spotter function," Daly said Wednesday. "The whole concept of the spotter is to help the trainer and to help other club medical personnel who might not see a given play or really see the results of a given play and really just give them a heads up at what happened."

The concussion spotters will be watching from various parts of arena, depending on configuration. Daly said the most important thing was the spotters having access to live video feeds and replays.

The spotters do not have to be medical personnel, but they must study written materials and take NHL-mandated online seminars.

In the NFL, concussion spotters now have the authority to stop games if they see a player exhibiting visible signs of a concussion. Daly said it will be different in the NHL because the focus is usually on the end of a play with a player on the bench at the time.

"You’re not really in a position where you’re going to have to stop games," Daly said. "But clearly there are some visible signs which a club is mandated to remove a player from the game for evaluation."

The NHL has prided itself on concussion awareness. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said repeatedly that the league was among the first to begin studying concussions in the 1990s.

The league is the defendant in a lawsuit filed by former players arguing it had the knowledge and resources to better prevent head trauma, failed to properly warn players of such risks and promoted violent play that led to their injuries. Bettman has said the lawsuit is "without merit."