NHL Needs to Make Safety a Public Issue

Tim Panaccio spoke to a Western Conference scout who’s convinced the glass used behind the goals is causing injuries.

The scout told Panaccio the puck bounces off of the glass too hard and too fast, forcing goalies and defensemen to constantly swivel to follow the puck as it shoots over the net toward the stands and then back toward center ice.

The scout says the NHL should go back to mesh behind the nets.

Panaccio chimes in to remind us that the boards used to give a lot more, too, which is fairly obvious to anyone watching an old game on TV. Guys are checked and the ice expands about a foot. In the 1970s, if you had the right guys checking at the right moment, you could probably convert an NHL-size sheet into an Olympic sheet — at least for a few seconds.

You hear a fair number of these kinds of observations every year. Which makes me wonder how the NHL is tracking injuries. Does it have some kind of data-driven method to see if a fair number of injuries are coming off of shots off of the goal glass? Is the NHL talking to scouts and trainers and then investigating their theories? And is there any reason not to share this information?

Because it’s easy to condemn the league for sticking with glass that’s causing injuries. But for all we know, the league looked into this, and it just isn’t the case. But without the NHL reporting its findings, people continue to blame things like glass and boards.

While I see the scout’s point about the goalie glass, I’m not sure players were any safer chasing a puck behind the net, either. But if the NHL knows which way is safer for players, the league isn’t sharing it with fans, many of whom play the game and might actually want to know how best to set up their own rinks.

The NHL takes a lot of guff for its handling (or mishandling) of player safety, but we really don’t have many ways to quantitatively know if these accusations are accurate. If the NHL is tracking injuries in a data-driven way, it would be great if they shared their findings with everyone. And if they’re not tracking injuries, even in an anecdotal manner, maybe it’s time to start.

Player safety shouldn’t hinge on the right scout reporting the right observation to the right sportswriter.