Gary Bettman downplays Sidney Crosby 'abuse' in playoffs

PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby’s health has been a topic of debate for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for the last decade.

When the Pittsburgh Penguins star has been out of the lineup due to injury, Bettman has had to address criticism for everything from NHL concussion protocol to the way the League does or does not protect star players.

Hours before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Penguins and the Nashville Predators, Bettman was addressing it again, facing questions about Crosby’s concussion in the second round against the Washington Capitals as well as some incendiary comments made by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford before the Final.

“I’ve watched it ever since I got here almost every game. He gets this on a regular basis. Some of the stuff that goes on [on] a regular basis, it’s really disgusting,” said Rutherford to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News.

“The league has got to fix it,” Rutherford said. “In other leagues, they protect star players. In basketball, they don’t let their top players get abused. And in our league, well the thing I keep hearing is, ‘That’s hockey. That’s hockey,’ No, it’s not.”

Bettman downplayed the criticism as gamesmanship from the veteran executive.

“On both a personal and professional level, I think the world of Jim Rutherford,” said Bettman. “The timing of what he said seems a little odd. That’s something you do at a GMs meeting, not the day of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Maybe he’s trying to tweak the officials a little bit,” said Bettman, with an literal wink.

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He said the playoffs have been a physical affair for all involved.

“We don’t want our players getting hurt. It’s fair to say that all of the teams in these playoffs have played physically. There are a couple of people that have complained, on other teams, of things Pittsburgh players have done,” said Bettman.

As for Crosby’s Round 2 concussion, the conversation centered around an incident in Game 6 against the Capitals in which a head-first crash against the boards by Crosby didn’t result in him leaving the ice through the NHL concussion protocol.

“There’s always speculation as to why this player or that wasn’t taken off the ice, but the fact is that we look for signs for possible concussions because the players don’t like being yanked out of games needlessly,” said Bettman. “Having said that, if you enforce the concussion protocol, you’re going to yank players out of the game that don’t have one.”

One point of contention on the Crosby boards collision has been that the concussion spotters were handcuffed by the language of their mandate.

“Depending on the mechanism of injury, ‘slow to get up’ does not trigger mandatory removal,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told USA TODAY Sports. “The protocol has to be interpreted literally to mandate a removal. ‘Ice’ as compared to ‘boards’ is in there for a reason. It’s the result of a study on our actual experiences over a number of years. ‘Ice’ has been found to be a predictor of concussions — ‘boards’ has not been.”

Daly said on Monday that there’s been no change to that language after the Crosby incident. “The concussion sub-committee met post-‘that incident,’ and there were no recommendations to change the protocol,” he said.

Daly also defending how the protocol worked during the Crosby incident.

“There was communication between the League office and the Penguins bench. The protocol didn’t mandate the player be removed in that situation. But that doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh medical staff wasn’t all over that situation and evaluate him, which they did,” said Daly.

“And in hindsight, there was no injury,” he said.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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