The NHL announced Thursday morning that Winnipeg Jets center Alexander Burmistrov has been fined $2,000 for violating Rule 64, which deals with diving and embellishment. Burmistrov is the seventh player to receive a fine for diving, joining teammate Nikolaj Ehlers, Jordin Tootoo and Bobby Farnham of the New Jersey Devils, Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks, Zack Smith of the Ottawa Senators, and Teemu Pulkkinen of the Detroit Red Wings.
The NHL, which fines players and coaches on a graduated scale for such infractions really seems to have a bee in its bonnet for players who repeatedly dive and embellish in an attempt to draw penalties. Talk to any of the “hockey people” in the league’s head office and they see diving as an enormous blight on the game.
Which is fine. It’s just too bad the league doesn’t take concussions as seriously as it does diving. The problem is not that the NHL has a concussion protocol, the real problem is that it lacks teeth in a big way. That much was evident when Dennis Wideman was involved in an incident with a linesman last week that earned him a 20-game suspension.
As part of his defense, Wideman claimed that he had suffered a concussion on the previous play when he was hit along the boards by Nashville Predators right winger Miikka Salomaki. It was later learned that after the incident with linesman Don Henderson, Wideman was approached by a Calgary Flames trainer about going to the Quiet Room for a SCAT-3 concussion test and Wideman refused. It was disclosed later that Wideman had indeed been diagnosed with a concussion after the game, albeit one that did not prevent him from flying to Toronto six days after the incident or from clearing the NHL’s concussion protocol and being able to practice with his teammates eight days after the incident.
It’s pretty clear that the league’s concussion protocol broke down in a big way. According to a source close to the situation, the league-appointed concussion spotter alerted the Calgary bench of the possibility of a concussion, which is all that person can do under the league rules. (He/she does not have the authority to order a SCAT-3 test or keep a player out of the game.) The Calgary trainer then went to Wideman, presumably to take him to the Quiet Room, but was rebuffed. It’s not known whether the situation went any further after that or whether anyone on the Flames coaching staff was made aware of the situation.
So if it turns out that the Flames were somehow responsible for the concussion protocol breaking down, they will be hit with a fine somewhere in the range of $20,000. That’s it. We actually don’t know the exact amount because it’s not stipulated in the league’s concussion protocol. No sanctions or fines to the player or anyone on the coaching or medical staffs. Just so we have this straight, a player who dives or embellishes gets one warning, then is fined $2,000 on the second offense, with fines for both the player and coach escalating from there with each subsequent offense. But the player blows off a member of a team’s medical staff and continues to play with a brain injury and there are no consequences.
A team fine of about $20,000? This is simply not going motivate a team to take action. For NHL teams with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, this is nothing. Let’s say the best player on a team gets hit in the third period of a tie game and refuses to go to the Quiet Room. Then he goes out and scores the game winner and that team makes the playoffs by one point, thereby ensuring at least two lucrative home playoff dates. So if the NHL fines that team, $20,000 seems to be a pretty low price to pay for that kind of return.
That’s not to suggest a team would knowingly do that to a player, but the Wideman situation proved that in some cases, all it takes is for the player to refuse further treatment and that’s where it ends. Surely the league can install a concussion protocol with more teeth without having it abused. Perhaps making players, medical staffs and coaches more accountable by hitting them in the pocketbook. (And willful blindness cannot be a defense.)
The league is walking a fine line here because if it were to mandate that every player with visible concussion symptoms be automatically taken out of a game, then you’d have teams targeting star players in hopes of having them removed for showing concussion symptoms. That’s why players are allowed to return to the game, provided they pass the SCAT-3 concussion test. But they have to take it in order for that determination to be made. And that’s where the protocol fails sometimes. The decision to go to the Quiet Room should never, ever be in the player’s hands. Because if they’ve proved anything over the years, it’s that they should be the last ones who should be believed when it comes to their fitness to keep playing.