Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger became the first member of the team to get pulled from a game under the NHL’s new concussion spotter system on Wednesday. Kruger was taken out of the Hawks’ game against the Sharks in the second period, then returned after passing evaluation for a possible head injury.
Kruger’s departure came following a rough hit near the boards by a Sharks defender. The game was briefly stopped late in the second period while his situation was reviewed, then it was determined he needed to be pulled from the game to undergo evaluation for a concussion.
This is part of a new system implemented by the NHL at the start of this season. Under the system, spotters based both in arenas and at the NHL Player Safety office in New York watch games live to look for signs of possible head injuries. If it is deemed that a player requires evaluation, spotters have the authority to pull them from the game.
That’s what happened with Kruger, who needed to be cleared by medical staff in order to return to the game. He was back out on the ice in the third period, so it’s fair to assume he passed whatever tests were done.
While it may be frustrating for the Blackhawks to lose a guy who may have been willing to continue playing, this is part of why the spotter system is so crucial. Teams rarely want to lose key players, and it gives them incentive to be less-than-aggressive in handling these injuries.
The NHL can’t take that risk, though, and that’s why you need independent spotters who can pull players whether they like it or not. Sometimes you need to protect a player from himself after a potential head injury, and it seems like the system worked as designed here.
As Joel Quenneville said after the game, "Everybody, I think, was trying to do the right things." Kruger didn’t suffer a concussion, but the NHL needs to play it safe when you’re talking about players’ brains.