BOCA RATON, Fla. -- After a week that saw the NHL pounded on the public relations front, the league came out swinging Monday with a five-point plan to improve player safety.
After Montreal Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty had his neck broken on a hit by Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara, for which Chara was not suspended, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had his hands full with sponsor unrest and players, plus at least one owner, criticizing the league's inaction.
But Bettman came back Monday with a battle plan to address the issue of player safety, specifically concussions, as the three-day annual general managers meetings opened in Florida.
None of the steps, which are being enacted as soon as possible, are rule changes as such, though those remain a possibility. The GMs will continue discussions on the topic over the next couple of days.
"If there is one thing that is clear, there is no one single thing causing concussions. In fact, the trend as to why concussions happen is different than what a lot of people are suggesting or speculating," said Bettman, after breaking down how players have been sustaining concussions.
He said 70% of the approximately 80 concussions this season were sustained through accidental collisions or legal hits. Only 17% were caused by what were deemed to be illegal hits.
"It's a long-winded way of telling you that this notion that the players have no respect for each other and the players are going around hitting each other in the head on a regular basis and that is what is causing concern just isn't accurate," added Bettman.
"The statistics I've given you are really to tell you there is no magic bullet in dealing with this. I know it is an emotional, intense subject, especially for our fans. We understand it, we get it; but dealing with this issue is not something you can just do whimsically or emotionally, you really have to understand what is going on. I think this morning's session gave the managers an excellent sense of exactly how to focus on these issues."
So, enacting longer suspensions as a deterrent, or introducing a rule that automatically penalizes any contact with the head, would only affect a small number of situations in which concussions occur.
It was interesting to hear players will now be removed from the bench area and examined by a doctor in a quiet room if it's suspected they've been concussed. It's hard to believe that wasn't already the case -- a trainer at the end of the bench could send a player back into action -- but it's a positive step.
The general managers are tasked with making the game safer for the players while not taking away from the physical aspect of the game that appeals to fans.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier was given a mandate by Canadiens owner Geoff Molson to make player safety a hot-button issue here after Molson blasted the league over its handling of the Chara incident.
"What we need to do, or what we hope to do, is make the game safer for the players without changing the entertainment value of the game. We've got a great product. The shortest and simplest way to explain it is we need to address where we draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable," said Gauthier.
Again, sounds good.
About a thousand miles away from here, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the game's best player who's been out for two months with a concussion, skated Monday for the first time since getting knocked out of the game.
He's a long way from returning and the league's got its work cut out for it improving player safety.
But today, you can say, both took steps in that direction.