How is the National Hockey League's concussion protocol like the Soviet Constitution? It is good on paper.
In reality, though, the protocol is bogus, as shown in a game this week involving not one but two blows to the head suffered by the Leafs' best player, Mikhail Grabovski, each of them delivered by 6'9'', 255-lb. behemoth Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.
Replays show that, after the first hit, Mr. Grabovski lay face down on the ice for six seconds. After the second hit, he enacted a kind of drunken ballet, falling backward, struggling to his feet and sinking back to the ice. Yet no doctor attended to him.
Who needs a doctor when "smelling salts" are available? Mr. Grabovski was shown on television reviving himself on the bench with ammonia carbonate. The image speaks volumes about the NHL's Victorian-era answer to head injuries. The league lets the chips, and the brain matter, fall where they may.
If the NHL is serious about minimizing damage from concussions, it will ensure that any player who shows obvious distress - the Grabovski wobble, for instance - has a few moments alone with a physician. Now, the onus is on a trainer who suspects a head injury to send the player to the dressing room for a physician's assessment.
It's ridiculously naive to expect that protocol to work. Mr. Grabovski's team needed him in a close game; a win would give hope of qualifying for the playoffs. There were roughly 90 seconds before he had to be back on the ice. Trainers in effect leave the decision to the player, the player almost always wishes to play on, and all involved hope for the best. That is exactly what happened with Sidney Crosby, the league's top player, who has now missed more than a dozen games with a head injury. Both he and Mr. Grabovski told a trainer they were okay.
Mr. Grabovski went on to score the winning goal. Whether his brain has been damaged, who knows. Some protocols aren't worth the paper they're written on.