NHL, NHLPA Bolster Concussion-evaluation Process, Amplifies Use of Spotters

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have amended the spotter program in the NHL Concussion Evaluation and Management Protocol to guarantee the inclusion of concussion spotters employed and trained by the League at every game in an attempt to further strengthen the program.

“The spotter program is not new, it has been in existence as part of our Concussion Protocol for some time now; the thing that is changing is how we are allowing clubs to deal with the responsibility,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “By introducing League-employed-and-trained spotters, we are simply providing our clubs with another alternative to adequately and properly execute the spotter responsibility.”

As has been the case under the protocol, each team maintains the right to designate its own concussion spotter for each game. In such cases, the team’s concussion spotter will be considered the on-duty spotter for that game. However, the NHL has designated a network of people, two at each arena, to serve as League-designated spotters.

A team can elect to have the League-designated spotter serve as the on-duty spotter for any game. To do so, the supervisor of the NHL off-ice officials in the arena must be notified at least one hour prior to the game.

Otherwise, the League-designated spotter at that game will log incidents of players exhibiting one or more visible signs of a concussion, regardless of whether the player receives medical attention of any kind. The information logged by the League’s concussion spotters, regardless of whether they are on team duty for a game, must be sent back to the NHL by the first of each month.

The spotters in the League-designated network, who receive training from the League in how to identify signs of a concussion, were chosen from a list of NHL off-ice officials at each arena.

There will be one League-designated spotter at each game, and that spotter will not serve as an official in any other capacity for that game.

“Most clubs so far have indicated a preference to continue with a club-spotter approach, but certainly there will be situations where a club will opt to utilize the League spotter,” Daly said. “All of the designations must be made before each game so there is no confusion as to who will be performing the active-spotter duties in a particular game.”

Daly said the role of the spotter is to identify and flag incidents that have led to players on the ice demonstrating visible signs of a concussion.

The spotter, who is expected to sit in the press box, has a two-way radio in order to communicate what he or she has seen with the training staff on the bench to properly notify a team of a player demonstrating possible signs of a concussion.

Daly said the responsibilities of diagnosing concussions or medically determining if a player can return to play belong to the medical professionals employed by the team in question.

“Depending on the nature of what is reported to him, the trainer has the next call on whether the player needs to be removed for evaluation,” Daly said.

The process of logging visible signs of concussions and relaying that information back to the NHL has been put into place for this season to help the League understand what is being observed in a game and what is being flagged, Daly said.

“From that information, determinations can be made as to how the spotter program is functioning and whether it is doing what we designed it to do,” Daly said.

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