Back in late November Max Pacioretty received a three game suspension for an elbow to the head of Kris Letang of the Penguins. I’m not going to argue the merits of the suspension here, beyond the fact that at the time I agreed with it in light of the much ballyhooed crackdown on headshots being waged by Brendan Shanahan and his department of player safety.
Pacioretty however was confused. “I felt Letang put himself in a vulnerable position. Maybe I shouldn’t have even thought about hitting him because of the way the wind is blowing right now with head shots, but I’d like to see a little bit of consistency. If the onus is on the hitter every single time I’d be fine with a suspension, but you’ve seen instances where they’ve placed the onus on the person receiving the hit as well so I’m confused and a lot of other players are confused right now.”
Four months later and Pacioretty isn’t the only one confused. What was a three game suspension in November rates as a one-game suspension in this year’s playoffs and the headhunters are ruling the game once again.
Shanahan is no different than this predecessor Colin Campbell. Their paychecks and therefore their loyalties lie with the NHL owners. Their ultimate role is protecting the financial interests of the league and by extension, it’s teams. The more cynical among us would also remind us that team medical support is also paid by the teams and, in the past there have been successful lawsuits brought against teams for medical malpractice involving players who were forced to play while medically unfit.
The league could have banned head shots altogether as did junior hockey’s OHL two years ago but instead they made their head shot rules deliberately ambiguous so the player safety committee (Shanahan) could then cherry pick when, against whom and for how long they issue suspensions. Severity of suspensions seems to depend as much on physical damage-done rather than the act itself.
In my broadcast role with CTV Sports over the years, I spent a lot of time around boxers both professional and amateur. While the professional ranks treat blows to the head with the same callousness as hockey, the amateurs have it right. Here is the International Amateur Boxing Associations rule
If a boxer is “down” and fails to resume boxing within 10 seconds (KO) or if a boxer is unfit to continue having received several hard blows to the head (RSC-H), he is not allowed to compete or workout in the gym for a specified period of time (at least four weeks).
Clear and unambiguous. A boxer suffers anything close to a concussion there’s no trip to a ‘dark room’ or a hidden upper body injury. The incident is reported in the boxer’s passport and he is automatically unable to fight anywhere for a minimum of four weeks.
There don’t seem to be any innocents when it comes to reporting concussions. Of the Canadiens 440 man-games lost to injury, we have now discovered that 84 were due to concussion. It wasn’t the epic year the Pittsburgh Penguins had in this department, but at least the Penguins were up front in reporting the brain injury, including Letang who was out 54 days after the Pacioretty incident, his first of two concussions last season. .
In four of the six Montreal incidents, the Canadiens hid the injury under the cloak of ‘upper body injury’. Only the Scott Gomez and Carey Price head injuries were immediately publicized as soon as they were diagnosed.
Eighty-four games lost; Kaberle (10), Darche (21); White (5); Moen (32); Price (4); Gomez (12). The history goes like this……
Tomas Kaberle – Not revealed until season end. Injury occurred in Vancouver March 10th in the second period. Played on. Pulled himself out of the lineup two nights later in Buffalo after playing sixteen minutes.
Mathieu Darche – Refered to as ‘dizziness’ until season end. Injury suffered in the first period February 13th vs. Carolina…played in four more games before pulling himself out of the Feb 21 game.
Ryan White – Hidden until season end. Occurred in Mar. 27 while falling to the ice without his helmet during a fight with Florida’s Erik Gudbranson. Played 5 more shifts in the game.
Travis Moen – Hidden until season end. His last game was Jan 21 when he was checked by Toronto’s Mike Komisarek. Missed five games, came back for two and- finally shut it down for the season February 11th.
Carey Price – Tried self-diagnosis and played in four games with ‘headaches’ after a practice goalmouth collision with Desharnais Mar. 20th. Finally was treated and missed last four games.
Scott Gomez – Was diagnosed immediately following a hit by Buffalo’s Tyler Myers in Buffalo march 12. Myers suspended.
The only way there is a change in the NHL’s policies in the matter of concussions is if it hits the league pocket book. Bruce Dowbiggen in Tuesday’s Globe & Mail touched on the pressure that might be brought to bear from league sponsors.
According to John Collins, the NHL’s chief operating officer, the league is hearing from its business partners over the rash of suspensions and fines.
“They’re paying us a lot of money to associate with our brand,” said Collins who came to the NHL from the NFL. “So when our brand is under attack in the press on issues as serious as player safety, they want to know that the league is on top of it and has a plan for dealing with it and hear the league articulate it. That feedback is always going to be there.”
You might also want to read David Shoalts column in the same edition of the Globe.