Brain doctor calls on NHL to update ‘shocking’ concussion protocol

The NHL's concussion protocol is in the spotlight again.  (AP Photo)

The NHL concussion protocol is in the spotlight again. (AP Photo)

Alex Ovechkin’s hit to New York forward Jean-Gabriel Pajo caught the attention of a leading brain injury specialist, who was shocked to see Pajo return to action.

After taking a penalty midway through the second half, Bago chased the puck into the left corner where he ended up taking a penalty kick, clearing the puck. Following him into the corner out of his line of sight, however, was Ovechkin, who delivered a smashing blow to Pageau, making contact with his head – which then hit the glass as Pageau completed his follow-up. As the Islanders’ website described the play in their 4-3 loss to Washington, “A hit from Alex Ovechkin chased Jean-Gabriel Bago into the dressing room…the Caps scored twice in the span of 3:07 before Bago could rejoin his game.”

After the blow, which was not assessed as a penalty, it was apparent that Bago was unable to stand up without help from teammate Noah Dobson, knocking him off balance in distress.

According to brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) specialist Dr. Chris Nowinsky, founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Bajo’s response showed clear signs of trauma to the brain. While the injury was troubling, Nowinski was equally shocked that Pajo was cleared to return to play in the game, and called on NHL Commissioner Gary Pittman to review the league’s protocols for concussions and head trauma.

Ataxia is a condition described as a result of a lack of muscle control resulting in clumsy, uncoordinated movements, much like Bajo’s wobbly standing attempts. Ataxia affects balance, eye movement, and coordination, and can be a direct result of damage to the cerebellum.

When asked about their commitment to player safety, an NHL spokesperson provided the following statement to Yahoo Sports.

“Over the past 25 years, the league has had an unwavering commitment to promoting player safety,” wrote an NHL spokesperson.

This commitment has included a focus on player education; dozens of changes to the rules of play (eg, Rule 48 – illegal header selection; adoption of hybrid ice; and stricter standards regarding hits from the back and ups, overlaps, cuts and cross-checks); Numerous changes to player equipment (eg, softening of shoulders and elbow pads, enforcement of visor use, independent testing of helmets); and changes to gameplay (eg, softening of glass and a system of curved glass around seats).”

According to the spokesperson, the NHL was also the first professional sports league to develop a concussion workgroup, concussion assessment and management protocol, and create a player safety department.

More recently in 2019, Commissioner Gary Pittman publicly denied and dismissed links between head trauma he suffered in hockey and CTE. Bateman’s stance on brain injuries has remained a concern for former players. “Gary Pittman denies that the concussions are almost real,” former NHL player Chris Therrien told Yahoo in 2022.

In 2018, the NHL had to pay $18.9 million to settle a class action lawsuit by more than 100 former NHL players who accused the NHL of “failing to better prevent head injuries or warn players of the risks while promoting violent play that resulted in injuries.” “

Pageau is an 11-year NHL veteran with over 600 career games, hasn’t missed a game this season, and was on pace to hit a career high in points midway through the NHL season.

This isn’t the first time Nowinski has been called out by the NHL, and it’s not the first time Nowinski has been rebutted by the NHL and research from brain injury experts.

In 2022, a group of 14 researchers and brain injury experts published a new study that discusses the links between blows to the head and CTE, specifically as they relate to repetitive head injuries. The study concluded that the authors had the “highest confidence in the conclusion” that repeated head injuries cause CTE.

The NHL has publicly stated that they will not change their position or their policies regarding brain injuries based on a single scientific study.

Bill Daley, the league’s deputy commissioner, wrote to the Toronto Star at the time: “Not a single medical article defines our view on these issues. We rely on the consensus opinion of medical experts to guide us. Right now, a consensus view is not aligned with conclusions.” reached in the article you sent.

Similar to this case regarding Jean-Gabriel Pajo, Nowinski fell out with the NHL, and condemned Daly’s stance.

Nowinski told the Star: “Bill Daley says a paper that won’t change his view shows you that either he or the people he works with aren’t interested in critical thinking on this issue.”

While no punishment was assessed to Ovechkin in this case, the play could still be reviewed for subsequent discipline – although this seems unlikely at this point. The New York Islanders are set to take on the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night. No listing or listing announcements have been made to determine Pageau’s availability for the game.

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