by GARY YAMASAKI Given the intensity of play at the NHL level, it is obviously going to be impossible to eliminate concussions altogether. This is not to say that nothing can be done to stem the epidemic of concussions among NHL players, but the league has been moving at a glacial pace in instituting changes that have any hope of making a significant difference. Fortunately, there is one change that could almost instantly reduce the impact concussions are having on NHL players.
The change relates to the helmets the players wear, or more specifically, the protective liners in the helmets. A standard hockey helmet is fitted with a liner made of EPP (expanded polypropylene), and this dense foam does afford a significant degree of protection. However, the shock-absorbing capabilities of EPP are not adequate to protect the brain in cases of major impacts to the head. This is why we do not let our children simply wear hockey helmets when riding bikes. Bike helmets have protective liners made of EPS (expanded polystyrene). This is like a very dense styrofoam, and its superior shock-absorbing capabilities stem from its actually crushing upon the impact of a skull slamming against it as the helmet smashes into a hard surface.
So here is the modest proposal. Why don’t NHL players simply switch over to wearing helmets with EPS liners? They wouldn’t be able to do this immediately, as none are currently available. But for the right price, I’m sure helmet manufacturers will get right on it. Actually, it would only involve making modifications to existing helmet shells to accommodate a replaceable liner (an EPS liner would need to be replaced after any impact strong enough to cause it to crush) and arranging for the production of the liners themselves.
Obviously, having to replace these liners on a regular basis would not be cheap, but the cost would be a drop in the bucket in comparison to the health benefits enjoyed by the players.