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Former players sue NHL over concussions

(Reuters) - Ten former players have filed a class action lawsuit against the National Hockey League (NHL), claiming the league did not do enough to prevent concussions.

Former Toronto Maple Leafs Gary Leeman and Rick Vaive were among the players to file a claim in U.S. District Court in Washington, saying it was time for the NHL to elevate long-term player safety over profit and tradition.

The lawsuit comes less than three months after the National Football League paid $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by thousands of former players, many suffering from dementia and health problems.

The former NHL players claim that a player can sustain about 1,000 hits to the head during a season without any documented incapacitating concussion and that repeated blows result in permanently impaired brain function.

The NHL said in a brief statement that it was aware of the lawsuit and that it has done its part to keep players safe.

"While the subject matter is very serious, we are completely satisfied with the responsible manner in which the league and the Players' Association have managed player safety over time, including with respect to head injuries and concussions," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, said in a statement.

"We intend to defend the case vigorously and have no further comment at this time."

Concussions have been in the NHL spotlight for years.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the game's most popular player and face of the NHL, missed large chunks of two seasons as he slowly recovered from concussion symptoms.

Several other players, including former All-Stars Eric Lindros, Pat LaFontaine and Keith Primeau, were all forced to prematurely end their careers due to concussion issues.

In 2011, three former NHL enforcers, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak died tragically raising concerns about a possible link between the deaths and the players' tough guy roles and concussions.

The players point out in their claim that the NHL has refused to ban fighting while team rosters often include "enforcers" whose main function is to fight.

The claim also states that the NHL purposefully concealed the risks of brain injuries and exposed players to unnecessary dangers they could have avoided.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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