With Concussions Increasing, Is It Time for the NHL to Resize the Rink?

It seems that almost every day, we are reading reports of a player who has gone down with a concussion or related symptoms, and even upon recovery, the phrase “Post-Concussion Syndrome” has become household jargon for hockey fans. As a writer covering the New York Rangers, I have seen firsthand the devastation that can occur from a concussion, with two of the Rangers top-four defensemen, Marc Staal and Michael Sauer, sitting on the injured reserve. This has become an epidemic in the NHL, the priority of which should be at the top of the slate for all of those in charge. The following is a list of players who are currently on the IR due to concussions and related injuries:

Claude Giroux
Sidney Crosby
Chris Pronger
Joni Pitkänen
Jeff Skinner
Marc Staal
Andy McDonald
Mike Richards
Michael Sauer
Kris Letang
Zbynek Michálek
Robert Bortuzzo
Jay Beagle
Milan Michálek
Brayden Schenn
Radek Martinek
Nathan Gerbe
Nino Niederreiter
Peter Mueller
Ian Laperrière
Brian Rolston

Now that you are done scrolling through this seemingly endless list, it is time that we settled upon a solution. Immediately, one would think to just change the helmet technology, and while that could be a start, it is not going to be enough. It is ironic that in the helmet-less days of hockey, fewer players received severe concussions. This could be attributed to multiple factors: pucks not being shot as high, a stricter moral code of conduct amongst players, and most likely, the fact that injuries like that were not reported, or there was less care taken when a player wanted to return from such an injury. Hockey players are warriors who would play with a gunshot wound in their chest, which is the reason for the ultra-importance of slowing down the return process for such eager athletes. The fact is, players are stronger and faster than ever before, and the equipment they wear has the durability of a knight’s shining armor. Elbows always caused injuries, but now shoulders are causing them too, even though that type of hit is deemed clean.

Can we make the helmets stronger? I thought that issue was already addressed, with the new space-age technology some of these companies are employing in regards to the padding inside and how they distribute the shock against a player’s head. During a game last week between the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers, color analyst Joe Micheletti even jokingly suggested that the size of helmets should mirror that of football players, which would be a huge mistake because it would only cut down on visibility and a player’s peripheral vision. When Blues’ President John Davidson joined the discussion during the second period, he then made a much better, logical suggestion: increase the size of the rinks.

Due to the ever-increasing speed of the game, adding a few feet to both sides of the rink would give players more room and more time to give themselves better positioning and a better chance to avoid a check. This seems to be the only realistic course of action, because tougher penalties and suspensions have not had one iota of effect on these players. Many people have commented on the size of Olympic hockey rinks when the Winter Games roll around every four years, saying it would be great for hockey because it allows for players to showcase their talent better, but is always shot down for implementation in the NHL, because increasing the rink size would take rows of seating away, and my goodness, the tragedy of teams losing money then comes into play. My, what a catastrophe that would be! The league would not need to expand to that size, but definitely an increase will help. The only question is, will the GMs allow such a change?

Answering this question will then decide the ultimate dilemma: does the league care more about players’ safety or the almighty dollar? I shudder to think of the answer to that question and the excuses that would ensue. However, increasing the size of NHL rinks would also ensure that the game stays as pure as possible, as there would be no need for ridiculous helmets and the much-loved hitting would not have to be removed from the game. Most sports are a game of inches, but hockey is a game of seconds, and as each one ticks away, safety is jeopardized. I have no doubt that by giving a player more time to react and more space to move around, we would see a dramatic decrease in these injuries, which are more detrimental to the game than almost any other kind. It’s time for the NHL to step up and do the right thing here.

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