RALEIGH, N.C. – Sidney Crosby is hardly the only NHL player felled by a concussion this season. In fact, he has lots of unwanted company.
The NHL board of governors received a detailed preliminary report Saturday during All-Star weekend that shows the number of concussions is trending up. What might be surprising is that the culprit appears to be accidental hits and not illegal blows to the head.
"We've seen players suffer concussions this season when they've stumbled into the boards or other players without any contact at all," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We've seen players suffer concussions when struck by pucks in the head, we've seen players concussed when they collide with teammates, and when they were hit legally and without head contact after which their heads have struck either the ice or the boards or the glass.
"The biggest increase in instances of concussions this season and the biggest increase in man-games lost, is from these types of so-called accidental or inadvertent contact."
There are already signs that a rule banning lateral, blindside hits to the head — in its first full season — is working. The debate is about whether it goes far enough. Some are pushing for all contact to the head, intended or accidental, to be ruled illegal.
Others worry that hitting, a major and popular part of hockey, will be cut down to unnecessary and unwanted levels.
"The objective was to review what we have done and what we are doing to assess a variety of factors and determine how best to continue our ongoing effort to manage, reduce and whenever possible to find ways to prevent instances in which concussions occur," Bettman said.
The next step will come in March when the league's 30 general managers meet again. They will review all information and see if more needs to be done in an attempt to reduce concussions by proposing new rules. The general managers came up with the current head-shot ban — rule 48 — that went into effect shortly before last year's playoffs.
Bettman declined to reveal any numbers regarding the number of concussions sustained this season or what percentage they have risen to.
He said the report showed since the blindside rule went into effect, there has been a decrease in concussions and man-games lost resulting from those hits.
Bettman added there have been fewer concussions caused by hits to the head that are currently deemed to be legal.
"We want to make sure we do what we can to eliminate concussions from the sport," said Peter Karmanos Jr., the owner of the All-Star host Carolina Hurricanes. "The general managers will decide in the March meeting how much more teeth to put into rule 48. That's where it should come from."
The issue of concussions was already a hot topic in the NHL before Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and the league's biggest star, was forced to sit out this weekend's festivities because of a concussion sustained this month.
But the focus and heat increased when Crosby went down following a pair of hits he absorbed days apart, including an unintended shot from Washington's Dave Steckel in the outdoor Winter Classic on Jan. 1.
"I think it's working," Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said of rule 48. "I'm really happy with that rule change. I see far fewer blindside hits. I see players, instead of going at the head, dropping down and going shoulder-to-shoulder.
"It's a full-contact sport. Our job is to make it as safe as we can without taking the hitting out."
The concussion topic was the biggest one addressed during the meeting of team owners that was otherwise uneventful, according to those who took part.
Updates were presented about the current state of franchises currently within the process of being sold.
The ongoing Phoenix Coyotes situation is still moving toward the closing of a sale from the NHL to Chicago businessman Matt Hulsizer. Bettman didn't issue a drop-dead date for the deal to be done, but said the league was willing to keep going forward as long as it appears to be on track.
However, he said the timeframe for that isn't indefinite.
"The city of Glendale is working toward a sale of the bonds necessary to complete the transaction," Bettman said. "We're hoping in the next couple of weeks or so things will be resolved and the franchise (sale) will close."
Prospective Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula was interviewed Saturday by the executive committee, but that sale is not nearly done.
"No votes were taken. This was just a preliminary step," Bettman said.
He added that the NHL is not funding the Dallas Stars, and that the team is currently involved with an "orderly sales process with about a half a dozen interested parties."
With Comcast Corp. completing its acquisition of the majority stake in NBC Universal on Friday night, Bettman said the NHL will soon begin negotiations on a new national television deal with current partners Versus and NBC.