The NHL has a “concussion evaluation and management protocol” that runs about three pages and some 1,200 words. But the document, backed by the league and the NHL Players’ Association, and issued a year ago, devotes just one paragraph to “return to play.”
The document sets no minimum time a player has to sit. Players can be diagnosed with a concussion and then, if recovery is swift, return the same game.
The return-to-play protocol states only that a player has to be free of concussion symptoms when at rest. “Upon exertion,” the player must be “determined to be cognitively at baseline.” That means that test results after an athlete has exerted himself have to match measurements taken in the preseason. The protocol does not define exertion.
For instance, the protocols don’t prohibit a player from missing practice during the day and playing that night. The protocols are general, and the details are in the hands of a team doctor.
The protocols provide “broad guiding parameters,” Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner, said by e-mail on Friday. “Diagnosis and treatment of concussion is left to the expertise of the individual team physician working with the player.”
So even details of the protocols are of little use when trying to figure out the condition of Vancouver Canucks star Daniel Sedin. As of Friday, he had been sidelined by concussion for 23 days, since the Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith elbowed him in the head on March 21.
Sedin’s absence is a problem for the Canucks. He has missed 11 games, the last nine of the regular season and two playoff games against the Los Angeles Kings, as he was expected to be absent Friday night for Game 2.
Game 3 – and possibly beyond – is a question mark.
Sedin practised with his team last Monday and looked set to go. But the headaches returned, and as of Friday Sedin was not skating with his team. He is said to have skated privately early Friday morning.
On Friday, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t say if Sedin would even travel to Los Angeles for Game 3. “Nothing new to report,” Vigneault said.
One reprieve for Vancouver is the lengthy middle of the Canucks-Kings first-round series. Game 3 is Sunday, Game 4 three days later on Wednesday, and Game 5 is another four days later, the next Sunday.
“If he doesn’t play, it’s certainly to our advantage,” Kings defenceman Rob Scuderi said on Friday morning.
Questions about the handling of Sedin’s concussion go back to the first period on March 21 when Keith elbowed Sedin’s head. Sedin returned to the ice a moment later, playing for 1 1/2 minutes on the power play while Keith was in the penalty box. What about the quiet room, where players are examined after big hits? The protocols don’t say “quiet room” – the wording is “distraction-free environment.” Either description doesn’t mean being on the ice for a power play.
Vigneault deflected protocol questions on Friday. “You should ask a medical person,” he said. “I’m not the one who understands the whole dynamics, and then I don’t think I’ve ever read the protocol itself.”
Last season Sedin was the league’s top scorer and a finalist for most valuable player.
The Canucks got some good news on Friday when they welcomed Keith Ballard back from concussion. The defenceman had been sidelined for two months.
Kings scrapper Kyle Clifford is out with a suspected concussion after being boarded by Byron Bitz on Wednesday in Game 1.
But the Kings are benefitting from a revived Mike Richards. He was concussed in December, missed eight games, and seemed slow to find his stride on return. However, he had points on three of the Kings’ four goals in Game 1.