If there was one way for the NHL to minimize the expected negative scrutiny resulting from the settling of an ongoing lawsuit filed by a group of former players alleging the negligent mishandling of concussions and brain injuries, this was it.
Announcing a tenative settlement while the collective hockey world is focused on Monday's Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies—a class which includes controversial commissioner Gary Bettman—is certainly an interesting move, and that's exactly what the league and lawyers representing the group of retired players did.
The following statement was dropped just hours before the commish, Martin Brodeur, Marty St. Louis, Jayna Hefford, Willie O’Ree, and Alexander Yakushev were set to be formally enshrined in the Hall:
Plaintiffs’ Counsel in the consolidated multi-district litigation In Re: National Hockey League Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation, MDL, 14‑2551 SJN, and the National Hockey League announced today that they have reached a tentative non-class settlement of the Litigation.
This tentative settlement was reached after months of Court-ordered mediation overseen by the Honorable Jeffrey J. Keyes (ret.).
The NHL does not acknowledge any liability for any of Plaintiffs’ claims in these cases. However, the parties agree that the settlement is a fair and reasonable resolution and that it is in the parties’ respective best interests to receive the benefits of the settlement and to avoid the burden, risk and expense of further litigation.
Talks of settling the suit have been ongoing between the two sides for over a year, since the parties started "meeting in secret" in Louisiana, according to TSN's Rick Westhead.
The monetary value of the settlement wasn't disclosed by either side, but it is "expected to be far less than the billion-dollar agreement reached between the NFL and its former players on the same issue," according to the Associated Press.
The NHL and the players' attorneys jointly announced the non-class settlement following several months of court-ordered mediation. A group of more than 100 former NHL players alleged the league failed to better protect them from, and educate them about, head trauma and traumatic brain injuries and concussions. In Monday's statement, the league says it does not acknowledge any liability pertaining to any of the players' claims. A spokesman, according to the AP, said, "there would be no comment until after the opt-in period of 75 days for players."
That opt-in period is important to note, as each player involved in the suit has two-and-a-half months to accept the undisclosed settlement. Players can instead choose to forego the lump-sum payment and pursue individual litigation against the NHL on their own. Some of the more notable players involved in the suit include Sergio Momesso, Kevin Stevens, Bernie Nicholls, Gary Leeman, Brian Savage, and Joe Murphy, among others
Outspoken concussion advocate and former NHLer Daniel Carcillo reacted to the news on Twitter by urging players not to take the deal.
"To all former players, do not accept this settlement for the concussion lawsuit. You will be forced to be seen by the same NHL & NHLPA doctors to determine if u r eligible for treatment," the tweet read.
When rumours started circulating Friday about the settlement, which was reported by Forbes to be around a measly $22,000 for each player, Carcillo made it known that he wants his day in court and won't be taking the settlement. Other players have echoed the same sentiment, too, like former enforcer Mike Peluso, who texted his intentions to opt-out of the settlement and pursue his own litigation to Westhead.
Attorneys for the retired players say that the settlement includes a payment for players who choose to participate in the suit, neurological testing and assessment for players paid for by the NHL, and up to $75,000 in medical treatment for players who test positive on two or more brain injury-detecting tests, according to the AP.
The settlement would also set up a "Common Good Fund" available to support retired players in need, including those who did not participate in the litigation, according to the report.
US District Judge Susan Richard Nelson denied the players' bid for class-action status in July, which would have allowed any former players diagnosed with a neurological disorder to join the group collectively suing the league. Had class-action status been granted, more than 5,000 players would have been allowed to join the case, according to ESPN, which also noted that the NHL agreed to pay nearly $7 million of the legal fees incurred by the 146 former players listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The NHL has adamantly denied any link (and has still never formally acknowledged a connection) between head trauma sustained while playing and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE, while the league has also elected not to fund concussion research.