RALEIGH, N.C. -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Saturday that preliminary analysis suggests concussions as a whole are up this season in the NHL, but those caused by blindside hits to the head and legal hits to the head are in fact down.
"It appears, and again I want to emphasize that it is a preliminary, the increase in concussions appear to be in the area of accidental and inadvertent situations as most did not involve any contact with the victim's head by an opponent," Bettman said prior to the Honda SuperSkills competition at the RBC Center on Saturday. "I'm not saying no concussions came from hits to the head, but it appears the increase is coming from somewhere else."
Bettman said most of the concussions being analyzed this season are a result from when players collide with each other or when they "were hit legally and without head contact after which their heads have struck either the ice, the boards or the glass."
He said that these accidental hits that cause concussions have increased man-games lost threefold.
Bettman, though, stressed that the new rule (Rule 48) that renders illegal any lateral or blindside hits where the head is the principal area of target has resulted in fewer concussions caused by blindside hits this season.
"With regards to head hits, since the implementation of Rule 48 last March we've seen a decrease in concussions and man-games lost resulting from blindside hits to the head," Bettman said. "In addition we have seen a decrease in concussions caused by hits involving the head that are deemed legal in our game.
"This is preliminary," he reiterated. "Some of it is judgmental. Some of it is definitional. But we think on a preliminary basis this is the way things are trending."
Bettman confirmed that a detailed report on the League's analysis of concussions was presented to the Board of Governors at their meeting Saturday morning, but a more detailed discussion will be had in March when the League's general managers get together for their annual meetings in Florida.
"The general managers, with this information, further analysis and more information that we'll gather between now and their meetings in March, will go into figuring out what this all means and what if anything needs to be done to address this situation," Bettman said.
Judging by the preliminary data that shows concussions from legal hits to the head are down, Bettman is hesitant to say that a rule banning all hits to the head is necessary in the NHL right now.
"If concussions from legal hits are down, and concussions from blindside hits are down, then you have to question why a rule which deals with hits to the head would make sense if that's not what is causing the concussions," Bettman said. "The data as we're reviewing it and interpreting it -- and there is some element of interpretation here -- is such that it's not such a simple question to answer by saying, 'Enact this rule.' One of the things that is important is we want to keep the fundamental aspects of our physical game but at the same time protect the players."
Bettman said the League will not rest in its effort to make the game safe for the players.
He outlined how the NHL in 1997 became the first professional sports league to implement a working group for the study of concussions. The NHL was also the first sport to mandate neuropsychological baseline testing and the first professional sports league to implement diagnosis and return-to-play protocols.
"As all hockey fans, I'm unhappy about the fact that we have players that are not at the All-Star Game because of concussions. In fact, I don't like the fact that any players don't play or miss games because of concussions," Bettman said. "Keep in mind our teams have collectively about 800 players, there is 1,230 regular season games, we have over 50,000 hits in about 75,000 minutes of playing time. Of course the ideal number of concussions would be zero and our objective is to come as close as possible to getting that result without changing the fundamental nature of our game. But we do want to look for ways to better protect heads and do everything possible to eliminate concussions. This is an important matter and it's something that we intend to stay on top of."