Con­cus­sions on rise

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY KATIE CAR­RERA car­rerak@wash­post.com

A study shows an in­crease in head in­juries, but the NHL com­mis­sioner says most re­sult from ac­ci­den­tal con­tact.

raleigh, n.c. — NHL Com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman said Satur­day that pre­lim­i­nary re­sults from a study con­ducted by the league and the play­ers’ union show an in­crease in con­cus­sions this sea­son, but that most of them were the re­sult of ac­ci­den­tal con­tact.

The de­bate over whether the NHL is do­ing enough to pro­tect play­ers from head in­juries has in­creased since Pitts­burgh star Sid­ney Crosby suf­fered a con­cus­sion early this month that forced him to miss All-Star Week­end.

“ The in­crease in con­cus­sions ap­pears to be in the area of ac­ci­den­tal or in­ad­ver­tent sit­u­a­tions, as most do not in­volve any con­tact what­so­ever with the vic­tim’s head by an op­po­nent,” Bettman said. “We’ve seen play­ers suf­fer con­cus­sions this sea­son when they’ve stum­bled into the boards.... We’ve seen play­ers suf­fer con­cus­sions when struck by pucks to the head, we’ve seen play­ers con­cussed when they col­lide with team­mates.”

Bettman said there has been a de­crease in con­cus­sions caused by blind-side col­li­sions since such hits were banned by the league be­fore this sea­son, as well as a drop in head in­juries stem­ming from le­gal hits. There has, how­ever, been an in­crease in con­cus­sions re­sult­ing from fights.

Pro­tect­ing play­ers with­out al­ter­ing the sport’s phys­i­cal na­ture will likely be a main topic of con­cern when the NHL’s gen­eral man­agers meet in March, but Bettman said that the pos­si­ble im­ple­men­ta­tion of any ad­di­tional rule must be care­fully weighed. Bettman added that ban­ning all hits isn’t as easy of a so­lu­tion as it seems.

“Con­cus­sions from le­gal hits are down and con­cus­sions from blind-side hits are down, as a pre­lim­i­nary trend,” Bettman said. “You have to ques­tion why a rule that deals with hits to the head would make sense if that’s not what’s caus­ing the con­cus­sions.”

Ovechkin keeps the crown

Washington Cap­i­tals star Alex Ovechkin won the break­away chal­lenge dur­ing the all-star skills com­pe­ti­tion Satur­day night at RBC Cen­ter. He has won all three years the league has held the event, in which fans vote for the most cre­ative break­away move. Ovechkin di­rected the puck down the ice with the butt end of the stick be­fore turn­ing it right-side-up and shoot­ing.

Ovechkin and Cap­i­tals team­mate Mike Green were stopped in the shootout com­pe­ti­tion by the Bos­ton Bru­ins’ Tim Thomas and Ana­heim Ducks’ Jonas Hiller, re­spec­tively.

Bos­ton’s Zdeno Chara won the hard­est shot com­pe­ti­tion for the fourth straight year, this time with a record of 105.9 mph, while New York Is­lan­ders rookie Michael Grab­ner won the fastest skater com­pe­ti­tion.

Green and Ovechkin’s Team Staal de­feated Team Lid­strom in the com­pe­ti­tion, 33-22.

Caps un­sure on Europe

The Cap­i­tals are wait­ing to de­cide whether they will open next sea­son in Europe, Gen­eral Man­ager Ge­orge McPhee said.

Washington is one of six teams — along with the New York Rangers, Los An­ge­les Kings, Buf­falo Sabres, Ed­mon­ton Oilers and Ana­heim Ducks — in­vited to take part in what would be the fifth time the NHL has kicked off its reg­u­lar sea­son over­seas. No team has for­mally ac­cepted.

“It’s still a work in progress,” McPhee said. “Some­time in the next two or three weeks, though, we should have some an­swers as to whether it’s some­thing we’ll par­tic­i­pate in.”

Rus­sia and Swe­den have been ru­mored as pos­si­ble desti­na­tions but it’s un­clear how many cities the NHL wants to host the games. In 2010, six teams played in three Euro­pean cities.

McPhee has pre­vi­ously expressed hes­i­ta­tion with the event, par­tic­u­larly about the ad­di­tional travel, but on Satur­day he seemed to take a softer stance.

“ That’s al­ways a con­cern,” McPhee said about the sched­ul­ing. “But the league has learned over the past four years how to in­te­grate teams into the sched­ule, when we would come back. We’re not as concerned about it as we’ve been, but we just want to make sure if we do this that it’s the best pos­si­ble place to play our games.”

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