A joint NHL-NHL Players Association working group on concussions is expected to recommend that any player who is suspected of sustaining a concussion undergo an exam in the dressing room by a doctor. That policy could be in place by the beginning of next season. At present, a player can be cleared to return to play by his team's athletic trainer. The current protocol says, "A player suspected of having sustained a concussion should be initially evaluated by the team's athletic trainer and/or team physician at the bench. If a concussion is suspected the player should be removed from the playing environment …"
At the All-Star Game recently, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman admitted the concussion rate is rising from last season but wouldn't specify numbers. Currently, there are at least 16 players sidelined by concussion including Marc Savard of Boston, who is out for the year after suffering his second head trauma in as many seasons.
On occasion the symptoms of concussion do not become obvious immediately. After being hit by Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay on Jan. 5, Crosby flew with the team to Montreal for a Jan. 6 game, only to return to Pittsburgh on a charter flight that morning. He hasn't played since.
Grabovski was symptom-free on Wednesday, Burke said.
Both Dr. Echlin and Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital who worked with Dr. Echlin on a major study of concussions, said the NHL needs to change its protocol because trainers are not qualified to diagnose concussions.
"From, my point of view and the work I've done, you have to have at least a 15-minute medical evaluation, not one by a therapist," Dr. Echlin said. "A therapist can identify a probable medical problem but can't diagnose it.
"For them to make those calls, I don't think is a good thing."
Dr. Tator pointed out that athletes will often give misleading answers due to their desire to get back on the ice. There is also a language barrier in professional sports due to the number of players from outside North America. Grabovski is from Minsk, Belarus, whose uncertain grasp of English is well-known.
"It is not an easy diagnosis to make," Dr. Tator said. "The co-operation of the person who is suspected of having a concussion is very important. If there is a combination of a language problem and he is so keen to get back and get more goals, then [the player]can actually fudge it."
One of Grabovski's teammates, defenceman Mike Komisarek, admitted Wednesday that was possible.
"If you ask Grabo, I don't know if he doesn't understand in English if you ask if he's okay or not, but if you tell him he's got a concussion, he's going to want to go out there," Komisarek said. "You're going to have to pull a guy like that off the ice. And that's said with a lot of athletes. You have a lot of pride and you want to get out there and you want to be battling."
For his part, Grabovski said after playing in Toronto's win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night that he hadn't experienced any symptoms in the 24 hours since absorbing Chara's big hits.
"I feel good," he said. "I felt really good. Same like before. I feel much better than before. My body okay."