ATTACKING HEAD ATTACKS

by Ron Spence

I don’t understand those NHL owners – and GMs.

NHL insurance costs an arm and a leg – and is very limiting.

Teams can only insure 5 to 7 of their players through a “temporary total disability” program administered by the league (The program has been in effect for some 15 seasons.).

“It provides the underwriters with ‘scale,’ spreads the risk and allows them to provide more favorable rates,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly emailed to Luke DeCock of the News & Observer.

The league purchases its disability insurance through the BWD Group, a Long Island, N.Y., insurance broker that also obtains coverage for the NBA, WNBA and Major League Baseball.

This makes coverage readily available for every NHL team – which pays a premium based on the salaries of their five highest-paid players (The team is free to allocate that coverage however it wishes.). Typically, a team will extend coverage to as many as 7 players – at about 5 per cent of their salaries.  Coverage kicks in when a player misses at least 30 games.

Teams are free to pursue additional coverage, but the premiums are out of control.

“When you get to a certain dollar amount, the premiums keep skyrocketing,” Rutherford said. “I wish it was easier to get each [player] insured, but we can’t do that…If you wanted, you could insure all the contracts, but it would be very expensive.”

It’s important to note here, that the BWD Group can  balk at covering players who have had some specific injuries.

In the past, some insurers were more proactive than BWD.

Lloyd’s of London, who held the NHL’s liability policy during the 1980s, warned the NHLPA that public threats made by players – to harm other players – might jeopardize their policy.

”The head of the underwriting group called me,” Alan Eagleson said. ”When they call, it shows a lot of concern. They’re asking us to keep the players quiet, but we have no indication they will cancel our policy.”

ERIC LINDROS

07-17-2006ns_17lindros4gv11u9rop1courtesy of dallasnews.com

Now, let’s segue from the topic of insurance to head injuries.

Mid-November, NHL Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell sent out a memorandum to all teams regarding head attacks:

“We cannot and will not tolerate blows to the head that are deliberate, avoidable and illegal. Furthermore, both the history and status of the offender (first time versus repeat) and the nature of the injury caused (if any) will be taken into consideration as they have been in the past. The length of suspensions for illegal blows to the head will be increased if these incidents persist across the League. Taking steps to maintain the safest on-ice environment possible for the Players remains our most important priority.”

Simon Gagne – who was elbowed by Alexei Kovalev – had just contacted Campbell and NHL Players’ Association chief, Paul Kelly about the attack (He had been concussed the previous season and missed 56 games.).

Then, 2 1/2 months after Campbell’s proclamation, L.A.’s Denis Gauthier attacked Josh Georges, giving the Hab a concussion.

The attack and the NHL’s reaction to it, resulted in a furor from some prominent members of the NHL media.

“When the N.H.L. decided…it was going to come down progressively harder on hits to the head,” wrote Stu Hackel of The New York Times, “the first suspension issued was for five games. Now, four head shots later, we get another five-game suspension — and to a guy who has three priors.

We can’t know what was said or decided to lessen the severity of the suspension Gauthier received. We do know…that Gauthier’s “absence comes at a dicey time for a team that’s about to play the second game of a five-game trip and try to make up a six-point gap to the final West playoff spot.” They’ve got injuries to their defense corps.

These are points [Jeff] Solomon was likely to have brought up in the hearing. He also represents one of the most powerful owners of the N.H.L., Philip Anschutz. In the olden days, powerful owners would call league execs and lean heavily on them if a particular suspension would put their teams in dicey situations. Presumably that sort of stuff doesn’t happen any longer.

The bottom line, however, is that the guys on the ice wearing stripes did their job, but the guys in suits did not…There should have been no mystery here. But instead, the mystery is what somebody might have said to convince league officials that their eyes were lying to them.”

Jim Kelly added: “Was it that long ago that that kind of hit (which by the way included Gauthier leaving his feet to better accelerate the force and direction of the hit) used to hand out suspensions of 15, 20 and 25 games for such incidents?”

JEFF BEUKEBOOMbeuk

courtesy of Harry How/Allsport

So, the NHL had made a statement, but wasn’t really backing it up.

This was nothing new.

“Since the beginning of the 1996-97 season [until May, 2007], the [Orange CountyRegister found concussions resulted in nearly 5,500 missed games, costing teams tens of millions of dollars in salaries to players unable to play and placed a generation of athletes at risk of serious neurological problems that could affect their daily lives for years, even decades, to come.”

The NHL owners and management didn’t seem too concerned.

Dr. Charles Tator said eighteen months ago:

“The owners and the NHL have absolutely turned a blind eye to head injuries. With the escalation we (saw) in the last two, three months (of the 2006-07 season), there’s a strong possibility somebody will die from a head injury. The NHL is headed in that direction.”

Dr. Tator is a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, who has treated NHL players with concussions.

What could the players do?

Paul Holmgren, Gagne’s Philly GM told him: ‘You guys have to start talking about it. It’s not going to come from the officials or the league, it has to come from the players.'”

So, a number of the players talked to their man, Paul Kelly and he went to the league’s GMs last week.

Kelly said:

“Our support for a rule designed to eliminate or minimize ‘head shots’ is motivated by a concern over the increasing number of incidents we’ve seen the past two years, the latest medical evidence concerning the lasting effect of concussions, and overall player safety. We are not trying to take checking or physicality out of the game, but we believe that some action should be taken to avoid having vulnerable players on the receiving end of intentionally targeted head shots by other players — whether the check is with a shoulder or not. The N.H.L.P.A. will continue our efforts to make the case for supporting such a rule.”

Kelly proposed a rule that would give referees the ability to punish players immediately – like hits from behind – versus a supplemental discipline by the league.

One problem Kelly faced, was that the GMs were also talking about the subject of fighting, and were split about rule changes. Some like Phoenix’s Dan Maloney believed that the NHLPA’s suggestions were too specific, and had already been addressed.

Gagne was totally frustrated and told Tim Panaccio:

“Paul Kelly came out and said three-quarters of the players want the league to do something. It’s us playing and not them, and it’s easy to watch the game from upstairs. Players see something is wrong with it. We asked for them to do something and they don’t want to do it.

“It’s too bad for them. I don’t understand it. If 75 percent of the players think something needs to be [done] on head shots, and it’s getting worse and worse every season, and right now they are there talking about fighting. If you take that way, you’ll see even more dirty head shots.

It doesn’t make sense what they are doing.”

The Orange Country Register didn’t think that it made any sense either:

“Over the…six NHL seasons [until May, 2007] an average of 64 players each year have suffered concussions or related symptoms…Those players have missed an average of 639 games per season, costing teams a total of $60.3 million in salaries paid to players kept off the ice by concussions.”

I don’t understand those NHL owners – and GMs.

How can they afford to pay players not to play – or do they simply view it as the cost of doing business?

The NHL – like the rest of the world – has one foot in a financial crisis and the other on a banana peel. And they are paying high – and soon higher – insurance premiums.

Why not try and reduce the root of their concussion problem? The NHL can’t turn around the economy, but they can clean up their own house.

I have a simple solution if the NHL owners won’t act.

The BWD Group could become proactive – like Lloyd’s of London – and either force the NHL to act – and thus reduce their payouts – or refuse to insure players who have had a concussion.

If 64 players each year – according to the Register’s stats – aren’t reinsured, NHL’s rosters will be critically impacted.

And then the NHL owners and GMs will have to act.

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3 responses to “ATTACKING HEAD ATTACKS

  1. Spot on, Ron. It is the biggest issue facing the NHL. Twenty games for a head shot that leaves a player concussed should be the starting point. Guys like Aaron Downey and Denis Gauthier can collect UI benefits if they keep up that shit.

  2. The Patriots doctor presented his procedure to the NHLPA this week. He has
    the full support of the NHLPA’s medical board. We hope to have all the
    dentists in the league certified in this procedure next month when the NHL
    dental association meets in Chicago.

    Chubbs, the worker’s compensation for the league is recommending all players
    who have had concussion get fitted and they will pay %100 percent of the
    cost. Their concern is clear, healthy players represent a healthy bottom
    line. http://www.mahercor.com

  3. Interesting article:

    Dental device helps reduce concussion risk for athletes

    By MARK KRAM
    Philadelphia Daily News

    kramm@phillynews.com

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