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Concussions a major topic for Governors at meeting

by Dan Rosen /
CARY, N.C. -- Sidney Crosby was cleared for light skating Friday, but his concussion and absence from the Penguins' lineup for nine games has focused more attention on concussions and hits in the NHL, select members of the Board of Governors said after their meeting Saturday.

The general consensus remains the League is taking the necessary steps to eliminate hits to the head from the blind side and keep the players safe. What further steps are necessary is a topic up for discussion and could be addressed by the League's general managers at their annual March meeting in Florida.

"Frankly, I think the biggest reason we're focused on concussions is because of Sidney," Toronto GM Brian Burke said. "If Mike Brown got that concussion would you guys all be around with cameras asking about concussions? I don't think so. I think we're on top of it. We have to watch it obviously."

The League continues to do that through its analysis of hitting in the game and by talking to experts in the field of concussions such as Dr. Ruben Echemendia, who oversees the League's concussion testing program and is the chairman of the NHL/NHLPA Concussion Working Group.

"I think other leagues are looking to us for how we diagnose and treat concussions," Burke said. "I think we're a leader on it."

The governors who addressed the topic publicly Saturday said the addition of Rule 48, which renders illegal a "lateral or blind-side hit where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact," has so far been a success.

"The one thing that I have said all along is when we put new rules in the League the players are so good they adjust to it," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said. "If you look at the blind-side hits now, the fact is there is still some, but there's not nearly as many as there were before and as time goes on there will be less."

Added Burke: "I think we're where we need to be. I think Rule 48 was an important change to eliminate the blindside, but I'm not in favor of going any further. I know there are some leagues that have a rule that any body check that results in a hit to the head is a penalty. I think it has reduced hitting in those leagues and I'm not in favor of anything like that."

Boston President Cam Neely admitted the topic is sensitive to him because of Marc Savard, who is again out with a concussion. He said the League understands the severity of hits to the head and, "sees the players that are out from concussions and the man-games lost, and is doing the best it can to address it."

"It's just like trying to build your hockey club, you want to put the best club on the ice and it's the same with the rules of our game in trying to eliminate concussions," Neely added. "You're always looking at what you can do to try to help in those areas. I know the League has constant conversations about it, they monitor it, they're checking it, talking to doctors and it's an issue where we want to try to do the best we can."

Burke, calling concussions "the topic du jour," said he doesn't believe the NHL can do anything to eliminate all of them.

"It's a serious issue in our game and it's always going to be an issue in our game," Burke said. "It's a full-contact sport. There is no out of bounds in our game and all the players are volunteers. These are guys that are doing this for a living. We're going to have concussions. What we have to do is make the game as safe as we can make it within that context, that it is a full-contact sport. We've got to preserve the hitting in our game but we've got to make it as safe as we can within those confines. This is a game where you get knocked on your butt any time when you have the puck or just released it, that can't change. That's what distinctive, interesting and what our fans like in our game."

Fans also like watching Crosby, but the governors won't let one concussion persuade them to act any differently.

"Certainly there has been more attention to it because the media has brought more attention to it, but in our meetings it's on the agenda all the time," Rutherford said. "We continue to review it. We have experts giving us advice. We'll do the best we can to keep the players safe."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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