Significant breakthrough in concussions?

Gary Bettman has been the commissioner of the NHL since 1993. (Julie Jacobson/AP file photo)

RALEIGH, N.C. -- On a night where the Flyers’ Danny Briere and Claude Giroux were buried among the most talented players in the league at the NHL Super Skills, the most interesting news came from the lips of commissioner Gary Bettman.

Giroux’s team, Team Staal, outdueled Team Lidstrom by a 33-22 margin to win the final warm-up before Sunday’s 58th NHL All-Star Game at the RBC Center.

With 54 players from which to choose, Giroux and Briere had an easy night as they were involved in just the skills relay challenge, which had them dipping through an obstacle course with teammates, and the breakaway elimination.

Off the ice, Bettman revealed significant details from a report on concussions that was given to the league’s Board of Governors early in the day. While no facts and figures were released from what Bettman called a “preliminary” study, making it hard to put the information fully into perspective, it was a revelation as to the NHL’s progress in preventing brain injuries.

“Obviously this is an important matter,” Bettman said in his 30 minute briefing with the press. “We have treated it as such for years and we will continue to treat it as an important matter. We have mandated changes to the rules, we have mandated changes to equipment, we have mandated changes to the playing environment - all designed to increase player safety.”

But are those mandated changes working?

Here’s a brief rundown of what Bettman said, keeping in mind that these are “preliminary trends” through the first half of the season:

  • Regular season concussions are up.
  • Increase in concussions appears to be in the area of accidental or inadvertant situations, most did not involve any contact whatsoever with the victim’s head by an opponent.
  • They’re from “stumbling into the boards,” or other players “without any contact at all,” from “colliding with teammates,” and when they are “hit legally without head contact after with their heads have struck either the ice or the boards or the glass.”
  • With the implementation of Rule 48 last March, there is a decrease in concussions and man games lost from blindside hits to the head.
  • There was also a decrease in concussions involving hits to the head.

Bettman said some of the info is “judgmental,” and some of it is “definitional.”

The league’s general managers are to meet in March and try and come up with any possible changes to the game, such as a possible zero-tolerance rule that could come into play with any contact to the head, as some reports this weekend have suggested.

But is that needed?

From the looks of it: no. If hits to the head are down, and concussions from hits to the head are down, the newest rule is doing its job. But how does a league, particularly in a sport that’s fast and high-impact, go about cutting down on where a head lands after it is hit legally?

That’s the biggest issue. And I’m not sure it’s one that can be repaired, unless it is an equipment issue that heads aren’t being protected enough. Knowing some of these players, I don’t think that’s the case. Players want to stay protected so they can continue to play, not to look good on the ice.

Keep in mind, as Bettman said, there are 1,230 regular season games, 800 players, more than 50,000 hits and 75,000 minutes of playing time.

Of course, concussions were a big topic since Bettman alluding to the NHL missing star Sidney Crosby at the game since he was back in Pittsburgh nursing a concussion sustained on Jan. 6.

“If it was Mike Brown, it wouldn’t be an issue,” Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said earlier on Saturday, after the board’s meeting wrapped up.

With Bettman’s remarks, it proved the NHL is serious about player safety - as it has been since they started pushing for changes in protocol back in 1997 - whether or not Crosby was out of Sunday’s game.

It takes an honest league to come out and say the game is more dangerous for its players now than it ever has been.

But for now, until we see hard numbers, with exactly how many concussions have been reported this season and where those numbers stack up with previous years, it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of problem we have on our hands.

As Bettman said, some of those statistics are judgmental. The biggest judgment still comes from players and training staffs, who aren’t always forthright and open when reporting a concussion versus the general bell ringing.

Hockey players are some of the toughest athletes in the world. Fans saw it last year with Ian Laperriere, a true warrior and teammate who ultimately ended up playing his brain still actively bleeding. They can and want to play through almost anything.

Whatever numbers are reported will barely scratch the surface.

And that’s the biggest issue these players are facing with regards to concussion research; it’s impossible to report the near misses, the misdiagnoses and the untruthful. Because that’s the scariest number out there.

SKILLS RESULTS: For the full report on Team Staal’s 33-22 win in the Super Skills, head on over to for a detailed report.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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