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Transcript: Commissioner Bettman post-GM meeting

Monday, 03.14.2011 / 4:19 PM / News

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Transcript: Commissioner Bettman post-GM meeting
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  First I'd like to begin by conveying my and the league's condolences to the family of Rick Martin on his untimely passing.

With respect to this morning's session of the general managers, let me give you an update.  I think you've heard from some of the managers in your informal scrums the fact that we spent most of the morning going over an extensive presentation on concussions in the game.

If there's one thing that's clear, there's no one single thing that is causing concussions.  In fact, the trend as to why concussions happen is different than a lot of people are suggesting or speculating.

This was a very extensive, in-depth presentation.  In fact, I think we saw the video of virtually all of the concussions that have taken place this season.  We saw clips of all of them.  It was rather surprising to a number of the general managers in the room.  It wasn't surprising to us because we've been tracking it all along.

For example, 26% of the concussions are caused accidentally, pucks to the head, people colliding with each other, including same teammates, people tripping and falling into the boards and glass and banging their heads.  44% are from what we'll call legal hits.  That means body hits principally.  So 70% of concussions this season are from either accidental causes or legal hits.

17% are from illegal hits, 8% from fighting.  What this tells you, again, is that there's no one silver bullet to what's causing concussions.

Illegal hits causing concussions, 17% of the concussions are caused by illegal hits, and that's down from 26% in 2009-10.  17% of all man games lost from concussions from illegal hits, and that's down from 41% a year ago.

Long-winded way of telling you that this notion that the players have no respect for each other and they're going around hitting each other on the head on a regular basis and that's what's causing all the concussions just isn't accurate.

Since the focus of these meetings and our priority has always been player safety, we recognize that this is an important issue.  It's one that we constantly over the years have devoted attention, resources, time, money to make sure we're doing everything possible to make sure the players are playing in as safe conditions as possible.

Having said that, this is a fast, physical game.  As a result, you're going to always have injuries.  We want to do everything we can to minimize them.

The statistics I've given you are really to tell you there is no magic bullet to dealing with this.  I know it's an emotional, intense subject, particularly for our fans.  We understand it.  We get it.  But dealing with this issue is not something that you can just do whimsically or emotionally; you really have to understand what's going on.  I think this morning's session gave the managers an excellent sense of exactly how to focus on these issues.

With respect to the media here today, we will, after my session, have a session for you to take you through a summary of what was presented to the general managers this morning so that you can get a more in-depth understanding of what exactly the issues are and why we're focusing on them the way that we are.

From a general managers' standpoint, we broke up into small groups, three small groups, to have a good discussion in terms of focusing on what are the issues and how to address the issues, focusing again, as I said before, on making the game as safe as possible under the circumstances for the players.

These discussions and deliberations will continue tomorrow.  We hope to be in a position to have some recommendations or at least some sense of how the managers want to continue to approach whether or not they think any rule changes would be appropriate from our standpoint.

In the interim, there are a series of steps that we have and have been working on from a league perspective to address the issue of player safety:

First there's the issue of equipment.  Brendan Shanahan will continue to work and lead the effort with the Players Association to see what we can do to get equipment perhaps a little smaller.  We don't want to jeopardize player protection, but we want to make sure that equipment isn't too large and in a position to make players in a position where the hits that they do can cause more damage.

Two:  The concussion protocol has been revised to ensure that a player who has shown certain objective symptoms or has been involved in certain situations is taken off the ice into a quiet place to be evaluated by a team physician under the SCAT-2 procedures.  As you may recall, we are the first sports league that has had a protocol for the diagnosis and return-to-play decisions.  We are the first sports league that has done baseline testing with respect to concussions.  This is just one of another series of steps.

The implementation of this may take a few days because we want to do some conference calls with the trainers and physicians who will be involved.  But the protocol has been amended and it will be enforced.

We will, from a league standpoint, monitor to make sure that it's being complied with.  If it's not being complied with, appropriate sanctions will be levied.

Third:  I will be discussing with the Board of Governors at the June meetings the fact that I intend to, for next season, provide that clubs will ultimately be responsible for the acts of their players so that if a player or players on a club are the subjects of repeat disciplinary procedures and resultant supplemental discipline, ultimately it is the club and perhaps the coach that will be held responsible.

Fourth, and this is new for this week:  In light of what happened in Montréal, we are in the process of seeking to retain a safety engineer to evaluate the playing area and to see what we can do to soften it up.

We have either agreed or required that all the clubs for next season that don't currently have Plexi as opposed to seamless in the ends switch over to Plexiglas.  There are six of those clubs that will be making the change in the ends.  There are another five clubs that use seamless on the sides.  We'll be taking a look as to whether we're going to go all Plexi for next year.  That effort was undertaken a while ago and will be ready for next season.  The safety engineer is going to be looking at what actually can be done in the playing environment to do what I said:  soften it up.

In the interim, I've asked the clubs to consult with their buildings to see what they can identify in the short-term that can make the playing environment safer for the players even in the interim.

And, fifth:  To continue the efforts that will be here today, to work with the Players Association, to report back to the general managers, Competition Committee, and ultimately the board, there will be an ongoing committee to work on these issues consisting of Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Joe Nieuwendyk, and Steve Yzerman.  If there's a common thread among those four people, it is one in addition to being either senior or club officials, they're all Hall of Fame-eligible players, quality players who have played the game in the rules coming back from the work stoppage, and I think it's important to have them involved on an ongoing basis.

Our concerns in this area are not new.  Our efforts are not new.  This is an area that we have been consistently vigilant on and we will continue our efforts and our vigilance in trying to ensure players are as safe as possible.

Having said that, obviously when we have a situation to deal with, we analyze it, we make sure that we're responding appropriately to the extent we can because, as I said, player safety is of paramount importance and it's not something we take lightly.  It's something we take quite seriously on an ongoing basis.

That's my report and I'm happy to take your questions.

Q.  The concussion protocol that you just outlined, does that take effect immediately?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  The concussion protocol has been in effect.  We're now revising it.  We probably need a few days because we're going to need some conference calls with the physicians and trainers to understand what to do.  Once we can fully implement it, which will be in a few days, it will be in effect.

Q.  If a player is on the ice and gets hit, obviously can't maintain his balance, does the stumbling thing, lack of motor skills...

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: 
He's going to be taken to a quiet place to be evaluated, under the SCAT-2 which we use.

Q.  It will be done by a doctor?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  It will be done by a doctor.  That's exactly right.

Q.  What was your reaction from the threat from Air Canada last week and how much is there a worry about losing sponsors if this isn't addressed in an adequate way?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  I believe the people at Air Canada are fans of the game and their concerns about player safety are no different than our concerns about player safety.

Q.  Do you have concerns about losing sponsors?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  I'm not concerned.

Q.  After last year's meetings, there were some tangible changing in wording and rules put in.  Do you feel like there's latitude within the rules that are currently written, maybe some wiggle room for you to make the game safer without rewriting rules?  Is there an appetite for maybe enforcement changing as opposed to rewriting rules?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: 
When you talk about rewriting rules or enforcement changing, either one requires the annunciation of clear standards that both the players understand and that the officials understand and can call on the ice.  As you'll see from the statistics beyond the ones I gave you, this is a very complicated subject.

We want to preserve the essential elements of our game, including its physical nature.  We're not looking to fundamentally change our game; we're looking to make it safer.  You can't do that in a haphazard manner.  You just don't run off and do it in the middle of a season.

What you want to do is make sure that you're identifying the issue you're trying to address and that what you do in response will address that issue without fundamentally changing the game in ways that were never intended.

We're not going to hurtle through this just to get it done.  The key is to get it right.  That's why we spent all the time today going over the data and making sure the managers were comfortable that they had a handle on all of the issues and the underlying information that we had.  That's why there were preliminary discussions in small groups today, and there will be more tomorrow, to at least begin focusing on what the issues are.

For example, it may be that the managers conclude that we need to focus on boarding and charging because that's a bigger cause of concussions under the rules now as they're currently applied and construed than something else.  So that's why we're not just running off to give you what I've called the magic or silver bullet, because that doesn't exist.

Q.  What is your reaction to the letter that Geoffrey Molson sent last week to everybody in the league?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  I received the letter.  I think Mr. Molson and I agree that player safety is an important issue.  But that's not new news from our standpoint.  I never doubted that that would be something that he and I would agree on.

Q.  In your personal opinion, the hit from Chara, is that a hit that should be legal, that is okay?  Was it addressed?  Is there a certain concern in terms of pressure, if a player doesn't get up?  If something happens really bad, a player dies on the ice, has anybody addressed that this morning and said, We need to get something done before this happens?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  The issue was that we believe, all of us in the room, those from the league office and the general managers, that anything we can do to enhance player safety is important to do.

With respect to whether or not supplemental discipline should have been imposed on Chara, I took a poll of the general managers, and overwhelmingly they believed that the right decision was made in that case and that no supplemental discipline should have been imposed.

Q.  With regards to what you said about teams potentially being held accountable and coaches as well, what led to that?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  That's not a new, novel concept.  We fined the Islanders for a game we thought was out of control.  This is something that Colie and Brendan Shanahan and I have been talking about for months.

The notion is if there's a situation or a club where this seems to be out of the norm, something that continues to happen on a repeated basis, it should be addressed.

Q.  The Crosby concussion, the initial hit, would that be considered one of the accidental hits?  What is the discussion about those accidental hits?  Is it just an unfortunate by-product of the game or is there some discussion about how to bring that number down?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  Two things on that.

As you go through the statistics and you see what the data shows, there can be a particular incident where you might say, I disagree with that.  And there may be some of those.  But the trend overall is pretty clear.  So whether or not the percentage is 44% or 42%, one or two hits isn't going to make the difference.  The sense was that was an accidental collision.  Unfortunate, but that was the case.

We are looking at that.  Some of the collisions involve teammates on the same team.  Some of those accidental hits involve a player tripping and banging his head on the ice or on the boards and glass.  Some of it is a puck to the head.

Again, there's no one single cause that you can look at.

Having said that, if you're looking at player safety, then you look, for example, at boarding or charging and say, Okay, it may be legal now, but maybe there's a type of hit that we're not comfortable with from a safety standpoint, maybe we can tinker with that and make a change there.  That's what the discussions have been about.

Q.  You said that you were going to consult a safety engineer for the arenas.  After what happened in Montréal, do we have to understand that what happened in Montréal is more a problem of the arena than a reckless play?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:
  The fact of the matter, as I said, the general managers thought no supplemental discipline should be imposed.  They thought it was a hockey play that went bad.  I'm not singling out the Bell Centre.  The fact is if we can do something that softens the environment in all of our buildings, that would be a good thing for player safety.

So we're going to look to see if a safety engineer can, in fact, come up with ways, make recommendations that are sensible to make the environment a little softer.


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