The league’s superstar and poster-boy player has played in just nine games since the Winter Classic last season.
The New York Rangers top defenseman has not suited up in a game this season.
The Philadelphia Flyers captain and top defenseman has not played in an NHL game since November 19th and will be out the rest of the regular season, playoffs and possibly ever again.
What do all three of these players have in common? As I’m sure you know they are all being kept off of the ice due to concussions.
The list seems to be growing every day with concussions or concussion like symptoms taking players out of the game. Talented players like Shea Weber, Jon-Michael Liles, Al Montoya, and the recently returned Claude Giroux, have all dealt with or are dealing with concussions. Though, if any bright-side can be taken out of an injury so harmful, HBO’s 24/7 offered NHL fans and the network’s viewers into the reality faced when players who are believed to have been concussed are handled. Front-row seats were given to watch Giroux as he was taken into the concussion testing room and evaluated until such time as he was deemed ready to be put back in the lineup in a game against the Stars. He missed six games, a pittance when it comes to time missed from these brain issues. Marc Staal of the Rangers has missed over 30 games to this point.
All of these brain injuries has gotten the attention of the league, league analysts and talk is underway to do something about it. Eric Lindros, a one-time Flyers and Rangers star who had his career cut short as a result of brain trauma , has noted in interviews that he feels the recent rule changes, most notably the allowing of two line passes and the lack of allowing any sort of interference that have made the game faster have also made it more dangerous. Former players like Mike Modano are voicing their opinions on Twitter: “Put f’n interference and clutching and grabbing back in the game if you don’t want concussions!!” Not too tough to tell where Modano stands on it, even in less than 140 characters.
Now instead of players being able to slow each other down through the neutral ice with clutching and grabbing, these NHL’ers, now seemingly bigger than ever, can fly through the neutral zone at top speed ready to throw a check.
There are great arguments to be made about concussions in today’s NHL. No clutching and grabbing, the new pads that are more like body armor, players trained from day one to finish checks on opponents, and most importantly, the New Athlete. By New Athlete I’m referring to how well these players are trained in comparison to the way things used to be. The “athletic” component of all major sports is always on the rise and this is because of just how well kids know how to prepare to be professionals. Hockey players are the world’s most physically fit athletes, on an ice surface going at incredible speeds and hitting each other. With their size and speed, it’s a forgone conclusion that injuries are going to occur. The elimination of what slowed the game down has increased these injuries exponentially.
Though there is no detailed record of concussions prior to the epidemic happening today, former NHL players are coming out saying they think they may have suffered concussions as hockey players and just hadn’t been as educated as the league is today. Brian Leetch, now an analyst for MSG, has said on the air that he used to have days where he didn’t feel like himself and chalked it up to the flu. Looking back, Leetch thinks he may have suffered concussions throughout his NHL career.
To try and crackdown on the concussion epidemic now special assistant to the President in the Rangers front-office, Mark Messier, developed the M11 helmet. A quick trip to the Messier Project website and a whole lot of information on Messier’s specially designed helmet can be found. What is unfortunate however is that when you click the tab entitled “The Epidemic” no new news has been posted in over 2 years. Though there are plenty of other places to get the information on this epidemic, you’d like to see Messier use this opportunity to get information on the M11 helmet out. (Visit the Messier Project). Though unfortunately the website only lists “Nine National Hockey League Stars” as part of the projects NHL ‘evolved.’
The M11 may be one of the first of many future technologies created to try and prevent the diagnosis that is currently haunting the NHL. Though the league carries on without Sidney Crosby, to no one’s surprise really, you’ve got to believe that the NHL suits are worried about what is happening within the league.
Can you slow the game down? Probably not. Goalies today are just way too elite to play in the “old-style” leagues. During the lockout, the NHL wanted to avoid the 1-0, 1-1, 2-1 games that haunted the dead puck era and they’ve accomplished that, but the question is, at what price?
What can be done?
It starts with the players being educated about respecting one another in terms of pulling up on a helpless opponent on the ice rather than burying them. Again, this boils down to a mentality burned into every hockey player to finish checks on the ice. But sometimes, you just have to turn away. The league has done a decent job to this point with new rule changes like Rule 48. New league disciplinarian Shanahan has also come to the forefront of player protection and has not been afraid to lay down the hammer when he feels necessary, hopefully discouraging future infractions.
Here’s a novel idea…why not attaching the chin straps more tightly around the head to allow the player’s helmet’s to do their job? How about more severe penalties and longer suspensions for blatant hits to the head. How about fining coaches and team management or even the teams themselves? If those steps were taken, a lot of the foolishness would stop.
But maybe most importantly, if the league won’t go back to two-line passes and clutching and grabbing (and it shouldn’t), technology needs to be reevaluated and projects like Messier’s M11 need to be given serious consideration in all hockey locker rooms, not just the NHL.