The NHL's recent rule changes aimed at eliminating blindside hits and hits that target the head have not significantly resulted in a decrease in concussions, according to a recent study.
Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital, led the study that was published in the journal PLoS One.
Cusimano and his team compiled data from the NHL and OHL, which has harsher penalties than the NHL for hits to the head, regarding concussions, suspected concussions and the type of plays that caused them.
From the study, via the Canadian Press:
The data showed that there was no statistical significance in the incidence of concussions in the NHL in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons compared to the 2009-10 season. That latter was the year before the NHL rule change went into effect.
The researchers estimated there were about 5.23 concussions per 100 games in the NHL regular season. Despite its stiffer rule, the OHL didn't have markedly different concussion rates, clocking 5.05 per 100 games in the regular season.
The analysis also showed that the type of hits outlawed by the NHL rule weren't actually the major cause of concussions.
About 28 per cent of interactions produced a concussion also generated a penalty call, said Cusimano. In that 28 per cent, the bulk of the penalties were for fighting. “And blindsiding, which was what the rule was initially was written about, was only 4.1 per cent of all those.... But four per cent of 28 per cent is a very small number.”
Cusimano said the biggest problem with the rule changes comes down to the way they're written and the way they're enforced, giving referees too many "outs" when it comes to avoiding a penalty call. There's also the finding that most of the concussions are coming from other types of plays, including fights.
“So, it's like his fault, because he put himself into a vulnerable position," Cusimano said, via the Canadian Press. "And this highlights one of the major problems in sport and particularly in hockey these days. We victimize the victim even more, rather than looking at the game and the system and saying: ‘What can we do to reduce these injuries?' "
One of Cusimano's suggestions for how to reduce the injuries was stiffer penalties for players who cause them. He used the Sidney Crosby situation with the Pittsburgh Penguins in recent years as an example and argued that if the player who caused his injury (it was actually a series of hits and players) had to sit out a year, the culture might change.