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NHL makes substantive changes to concussion protocol

It’s about time.

San Jose Sharks v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL took a very positive step forward today by adding provisions to its severely out of date concussion protocol. The league will use spotters at a centralized location in New York to keep an eye on contests and decided when a player needs to be evaluated for a concussion.

The release, which you can find in full below, doesn’t specify exactly how this communication works, but if a team ignores the message from the spotters it will incur a fine of some kind. Referees can also indicate when a player needs to go through the concussion protocol.

This is a huge improvement on what was a dated and mistake-riddled system. While not perfect, taking the decision to have players evaluated out of the hands of coaches is a very good thing. The next step is taking the decision to put a player back in the game after evaluation out of a team employee’s hands, too.

For now, this is an improvement that was desperately needed.


NEW YORK/TORONTO (Oct. 11, 2016) – The National Hockey League (NHL) announced today the implementation of a number of new policies and procedures to enhance the NHL/National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) Concussion Protocol. While it remains an individual Club’s responsibility to identify a Player who requires removal from play and evaluation for possible concussion, the NHL and the NHLPA have agreed to provide additional support to help identify Players who require evaluation under the NHL/NHLPA Concussion Protocol. A new staff of Central League Spotters will monitor all games from the Player Safety Room in New York and will be authorized to require a Player’s removal from play for evaluation for concussion if the Player exhibits certain visible sign(s) under the Protocol, following a direct or indirect blow to the head. In-Arena League Spotters and On-Ice Officials will complement the Central League Spotters and will also monitor play for signs of possible concussion.

Specified sanctions will be imposed on Clubs that violate the Concussion Protocol. Clubs that do not remove a Player who requires an evaluation will be subject to a mandatory minimum fine for a first offense, with substantially increased fine amounts for any subsequent offense. Additionally, any Player designated for a mandatory evaluation will not be permitted to re-enter the game unless and until he is evaluated by his Club’s medical staff and cleared to play in accordance with the Protocol.

The staff of Central League Spotters that have been retained by the League are all certified athletic trainers who have clinical experience working in elite level hockey, and have received training on the visible signs of concussion in the Protocol. The Central League Spotters will observe every NHL game via television broadcast. The In-Arena League Spotters are also employed by the League as Off-Ice Officials. In-Arena Spotters also have received training on the visible signs of concussion and will be assigned to ensure that they will be dedicated solely to the spotting function during games in which they have been designated as the In-Arena Spotter. The In-Arena League Spotters will observe games live, in the arenas. While all Spotters (Central and In-Arena) will be able to communicate freely with one another during games, only the Central League Spotter will communicate with the Club’s medical staff if a Player requires removal and evaluation under the Protocol.

On-Ice Officials are also authorized to require a Player’s removal for evaluation if they observe a Player displaying visible signs of concussion under the Protocol, following a direct or indirect blow to the head. In addition, On-Ice Officials now have the authority to mandate the removal of a Player from the game if the Player continues to play after the Central League Spotter has communicated to the Club medical staff that a mandatory evaluation is required.