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NHL concussions: yes, it is a major issue

A mainstream media type opined recently that speed wasn’t the reason that NHL concussions are on the rise.

I don’t have the data in front of me, so I can’t comment one way or the other.  But besides the fact that the medical and sports world knows much more about concussion (and its long-term effects) than ever before and also how to properly diagnose concussions, there have to be some reasons why this is happening, eh?

I’m certainly not well informed on this subject, but surely the speed of the game, combined with the size of the players and the sheer force of the hits at such high speed (with that hard equipment) is taking a toll.

Players hear it from coaches, scouts, management—and fans—that we all want players to hit hard, play tough, etc.  It’s all part of the culture that has been ingrained in hockey players for generations.

And we absolutely don’t want to lose the physical nature of the game.  Fans don’t.  The players don’t.  Brooks Laich of the Capitals spoke out strongly on this subject not long ago.  Virtually no one wants to get rid of the physical aspect of hockey.

But surely we need to find a balance, if one exists, an approach to rules - and expectations within the game- that could derail the shocking number of diagnosed concussions and still allow for some real hitting in the game.  (I realize it’s a slippery line…if you can’t hit “high” and you can’t hit  “low”, there isn’t much room to hit a guy, is there?)

And yes, the Leafs are among the NHL teams who have been snake bit this season because of concussions.  Already, James Reimer, John-Michael Liles and Colby Armstrong have been affected (and Colton Orr last season), but that is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is happening around the league—and that’s a scary thought.

As opposed to thinking about who has concussions, the easier question to answer may be:  name the teams who have not been impacted by concussion in recent years, including this season?

We know that just in the past half dozen years, Eric Lindros (his younger brother, a high-draft pick, had to retire in his early 20s), Paul Kariya, Keith Primeau and many other outstanding players saw their careers curtailed and ultimately ended by concussion.

I don’t have a comprehensive list of affected (current) players in front of me, but off the top of my head, here are just a few of the big-name guys and/or rising young players that I am aware of who have been injured with a concussion- and there have to be many more:
  • Pittsburgh- Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang
  • Philadelphia- Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger
  • New York Rangers- Marc Staal
  • Boston- Marc Savard, Nathan Horton (since returned)
  • Ottawa- Daniel Alfreddson, Milan Michalek
  • Buffalo- Tyler Myers, Nathan Gerbe, Ryan Miller
  • Islanders- Al Montoya, Steve Staios
  • Washington- Jay Beagle, Nick Backstrom
  • Tampa Bay- Victor Hedman
  • Carolina- Jeff Skinner
  • Toronto- James Reimer, Colby Armstrong, John-Michael Liles
  • Winnipeg-
  • Montreal- Max Pacioretty (returned)
  • New Jersey-
  • Florida Panthers-
  • St. Louis- Alex Steen, Andy Mcdonald
  • Nashville- Shea Weber
  • Edmonton-  Ben Eager, Colton Teubert
  • Phoenix-
  • San Jose-
  • Dallas-
  • Minnesota- Guy Latendresse
  • Detroit-
  • Los Angeles- Mike Richards, Simon Gagne
  • Vancouver-
  • Columbus- Radek Martinek
  • Colorado- Peter Mueller
  • Chicago- Marcus Kruger, Daniel Carcillo
  • Anaheim- Matt Beleskey
  • Calgary- Alex Tanguay
I’m sure I’m missing guys, and you can fill in the blanks for me.

I don’t have a solution, but I’d be interested in hearing from you as to whether you feel this is one of the big issues facing the game—not only for the health of the players, but because we are seeing a game diminished because some of the very best can’t take to the ice any more—and some we may never see again.


  1. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 5, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    For sure this has to be a big concern for the NHL. The only thing I can subjects that hasn't already been discussed is to allowed some interference back in the game. This would allowed the forwards or D-men to protect their teammates who are in a vulnerable position.

    PS...Mike looks like there is something to the Ducks trading Getzlaf. Apparently the owner is losing money and with Getzlaf and Perry, after this season with one more year remaining on their contract...and will be no doubt looking for a large increase in salary...not to mention that Cam Fowler is coming off his entry contract something has to give. Whatever happens in Duck-land it should be fun in the next couple of months.

  2. Like I've commented before. The sheer size of the players now using the same size rink as first introduced is a factor. You take those bigger players who are now faster and stronger and put them in hard equipment and you get a result that equals two trains colliding sometimes.

    You like at shots of Gretzky (6'0, 189lbs) or Messier (6'1, 210lbs) in equipment and put them beside Joey Crabb (6'1, 190lbs) or Lupul (6'1, 206lbs) and there is a very noticeably size difference between the retirees and current players.

    I think when the league scales back the size of equipment or softens the material, the injuries will be reduced.

  3. Long Suffering...It's ironic, in a sense, that the NHL made those changes (neutral zone obstruction, etc..) to open up and speed up the game. Now we need to slow it down to help make it safer for players...

    (As for Anaheim, yes, the signals do indeed seem to be that guys are in play. The Leafs are no doubt one of a number of teams who would be interested in some of the good young Duck players...)

    Skill2Envy- In fact, when you posted the other day on the size of rinks, etc. I was in the midst of developing today's post on concussions. Rink size is a factor, for sure. Whether the money-focused NHL owners will ever be willing to make adjustments, I guess we'll see. And I'm with you on the size and hardness of the equipment. Gordie Howe was a very big man in his day with those tiny shoulder and elbow pads. What would he and "Moose" Vasko look like today?

  4. This terrible concussion situation was predicted and discussed years ago, when several observers advocated expanding the rink surface to European or hybrid Euro-NA size. These warnings came just prior to the wave of arena upgrades that took place. Unfortunately, the warnings were not heeded, most poignantly to the detriment of the athletes, but also to the detriment of the owner's investments in those athletes. The sacrifice that many of these players are making is unquantifiable. This isn't Greenpeace talking, Mr. Burke, it is common sense. I think some of these old farts need smelling salts. When they wake up they will realize it is the Twenty-First Century. On the world stage, the likes of Greenpeace are no-BS enforcers just like Colton Orr. Without them, we would be in big trouble, because those are just the guys looking out for us all.

  5. Well said, Bobby C....we too often ignore those who are looking ahead with pre-emptive ideas and solutions and dismiss them. Then we cry when things shake out precisely as forecast...

  6. Great to see "Moose" Vasko name-checked! No forward was left standing in front of the net when he or Ed van Impe was around! But no-one was concussed, either.
    I agree with other VLMers who think the decision to not increase rink size was a disaster, and so are the cement-hard elbow pads and shoulder pads in use. I don't think we'll see any rinks be modified any time soon, but a move to softer pads should help.

  7. Gerund O'....Vasko and Van Impe. Yes, great names from our youth.

    I think you're right, no one will be willing to re-construct the rinks, so hopefully new pads and a few (more) rule shifts will help....

  8. The easiest move will be equipment changes. I really like the red line being eliminated, creates exciting hockey and a change that should stay.

    Does anyone think no touch icing will come next season? I'm not in favour of the hybrid race to the blue line, I think that distance is too short. Maybe a race to goal line or face off dots.

  9. Skill2Envy...I'd like to post again on the no-touch debate in the next while and see what others are thinking.

    Personally, I'm in favour of no-touch icing. If you ice the puck, you face the penalty....I know it takes another element out of the game, but there have been too many unnecessary injuries.

  10. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 5, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    Hmmm...I guess I'm an "old fart". Not a big fan of the European ice surface. If you think there is less offensive changes in our game, then you should watch an regular Euro ice hockey game! I can see it now the New Jersey Devil's and ever other less gifted team playing the Fin's defensive style...does anyone still remember the Olympics in Nagano Japan? I still get the creep's thinking about it!

  11. Long Suffering...It's funny you say that about the big ice and the Olympics. Perhaps Im being inconsistent (because of my comments possibly supporting a larger ice surface to help decrease NHL injuries...) and I apologize if I am. But I acknowledge I am probably in a distinct minority when I say I am not a fans of the Olympics.

    I loved the Olympics when Canada sent true amateurs, but since '92 or whenever, I'm not as interested, though respect the many hockey fans seem to prefer it to the NHL game.

    My ice size comments are, again, mostly to do with injury prevention.

    In terms of the quality of the game, I like a small rink. I used to love games at the old Madison Square garden. Two strides and Frank Mahovlich was practically through the neutral zone.

    Boston and Chicago weren't much bigger ice surfaces.

    For me, the best hockey of the year is the first round of the NHL playoffs, before injuries mount and exhaustion kicks in.

    But I see the game getting so fast and yes, players being generally so big, and less obstruction and the size of the ice surface and I grow discouraged with all the injuries to great players.

    So what do we do?

    So like you, Long Suffering, I'm not naturally pulled toward the huge ice surface. Hopefully the NHL deep thinkers can find a compromise that allows for a bit more obstruction, we'd still have a speed game but less injuries, hopefully.

    As others have also mentioned here, softer, smaller equipment surely would help...

  12. I don't think international size is required (98x200) but a slight increase. The current size is 85x200 and adjusting to 90x200 - just 5ft or 2.5 each side, however you look at it, could greatly affect the game. Those 5ft could make a great difference without going the drastic 13ft increase.