Did Crosby's Concussion Impact NHL Rules?

A star in the NHL, Sidney Crosby has returned to the ice after a concussion put him out for nearly a year. Guy Raz talks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about whether Crosby's injury has changed the way the NHL does business.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

To big news now in the world of hockey. Sidney Crosby is back on the ice. The 24-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins star hadn't suited up about in nearly a year, since January 5th, when he suffered a concussion during a game.

Sports commentator Stefan Fatsis joins us now. And, Stefan, we know that pro football has been taking concussions more seriously this year. Does Crosby's, you know, long absence mean that hockey is also doing the same thing now?

STEFAN FATSIS: Yeah, I think it does. They were extremely cautious here and with good reason. Crosby's injury was severe. The part of his brain that controls how the body orients itself in space was thrown off kilter. He had to relearn simple tasks that we take for granted, like maintaining your balance.

Now, you hope that a lesser player wouldn't have felt pressure to return earlier in order to save his job. And you got a hope that sports in general are moving in that direction.

RAZ: And how has Sidney Crosby been doing so far?

FATSIS: Well, he scored five minutes into his first game back - so, pretty well. Granted, that game was against one of the worst teams in the NHL, the New York Islanders, but still, he's played six games overall so far. He's tallied two goals, nine assists, and his team has won four, lost one and tied one.

RAZ: His injury, Crosby's injury, has been seen as sort of a catalyst for tougher new rules on hits to the head and more stringent enforcement policies. You talked about this during the pre-season. Give us an update on where it's at now.

FATSIS: Well, there have been eight suspensions so far in the regular season compared to nine in the much shorter pre-season. So, either the players have received the message and are adjusting the way they play or the league is backing off a bit in terms of how aggressively it's going to enforce these rules. I think it's probably a bit of both.

Max Pacioretty of Montréal was suspended this week for three games, for a check to the head of an opponent. And Pacioretty said, look, it's a fast game, hits happened. He didn't think that his check ran afoul of the rules. But what was interesting were his other comments. He said he hasn't made as many hits this season. To be honest, I've been afraid to hit people, he said.

So players may not like the new rules but they are adapting. And one possible side effect is that the number of fights per game is down to .43 from .52, according to one of my favorite websites, HockeyFights.com.

RAZ: And, Stefan, one of those fights occurred earlier this week. It was a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers. The circumstances were pretty unusual, right? Tell us what happened.

FATSIS: Well, the fight broke out four seconds into the game.

RAZ: Oh, no.

FATSIS: It was completely premeditated. If you watch the replay of the video on HockeyFights.com, which I did, you can see Brandon Prust of the Rangers and Zac Rinaldo of the Flyers agree to drop their gloves - which is how most fights happen in the NHL these days. But given concussions and these horror stories from retired NFL fighters that we've been hearing, this is something that the league needs to start getting out of the sport.

But there was a contributing factor here, microphones and video cameras from HBO, which is doing its latest addition of the series "24/7," about the Flyers and the Rangers, following them up to the Winter Classic which is going to be played on January 2nd.

RAZ: So it sounds like a setup.

FATSIS: A little bit. This was the first game that HBO was shooting between the Rangers and Flyers, and let's just say they were not unaware of that. Phillies started two fighters. The Rangers responded with two fighters in their starting lineup. Prust said afterward of his insta-fight with Rinaldo: We wanted to get the blood pumping right away.

Whether this is good for hockey, I'm not sure. But it certainly will be good television. The first episode is December 14th.

RAZ: Indeed. Thanks, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

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