The NHL is feeling greater pressure to examine the concussion issue in light of recent injury news. US Hockey Hall of Fame welcomes an impressive group of well-known names from on and off the ice. A couple of trades have been completed. Key injuries may derail a top team in the East. Another coach is fired this week. A star player suffers a fluky but serious eye injury. These are some of the headline items that we look at in this week's column.
Well, unless you live under a rock, you are aware that Sidney Crosby is once again dealing with concussion symptoms. This follows a routine collision that he initiated with Boston's center David Krejci, who is not at all known for his belligerence. The fact that Crosby sat out the better part of a year following his first rehabilitation from last January's hit by David Steckel was seen as an overly cautious program, but with this most recent relapse, we now know that Crosby has a very serious problem. He is clearly the game's biggest current star and was on his way to reclaiming that status with a rush of 12 points in his first eight games played this season, but has been pushed back to the sidelines for what may be another lengthy absence.
When you couple that with the concussion that has injured the league's current leading scorer, Claude Giroux of the Flyers, from an inadvertent knee to the back if his head, a blow inflicted by his teammate Wayne Simmonds, more alarm bells must be going off at league headquarters. Simmonds was trying to leap over a fallen Giroux in pursuit of a loose puck when the players collided.
These are only two of a number of injuries that are adding to a growing epidemic of head/concussion injuries throughout the league.
What is the solution?
Clearly the league is aware of the fact that players today are bigger, faster and stronger than ever, but the complementary component of the hard plastics in the equipment commonly used in today's game accounts for these increased incidents.
In reviewing tapes of old hockey games, we can clearly see that the speed of the game has increased dramatically and we can also note that there are a greater number of high-speed, high impact collisions in today's game. Since it is obvious that body contact is a basic element it is equally clear that the quality of equipment needs to be addressed. Elbow and shoulder pads are used as weapons and their current composition has a definite role in the number of severe injuries that we are seeing.
This issue needs to be addressed immediately. It's bad enough that a number of the game's top players are sidelined indefinitely, but we don't want to wait for a death to take place. NHL executives must accept this as a call to action right now.
On a lighter, more celebratory, note, the US Hockey Hall of Fame welcomed five very well known inductees this week.
Keith Tkachuk - A prototype for the power forward role, which he helped to define during his 18-year NHL career. His stats line tells his story very eloquently. He played 1201 games, scoring 538 goals, 527 assists and was penalized for a total of 2219 minutes during his long and distinguished career. He even reached the 50-goal mark in two seasons.
Chris Chelios - During a playing career that began in 1983 and ended in 2010, Chelios played a total of 1651 NHL games, the highest career total for a US-born player. He was a very physical player was also blessed with an abundance of skills and a high hockey IQ. He tallied 185 goals and 763 assists while ranking among the all-time leaders with 2891 penalty minutes. He was a player who played hard in the trenches, a further testament to his toughness and durability.
Gary Suter - He won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in the 1985-86 season, when he amassed 18 goals and 50 assists in 80 games played. That was a portent of things to come as he would perennially rank among the league's top scoring defensemen during most of his 17 years in the NHL. He finished with a total of 1145 games played, scoring 203 goals and 642 assists, along with 1349 penalty minutes.
Doc Emrick - Long-time voice of New Jersey Devils hockey, who has become the leading announcer of nation-wide broadcasts with Versus and Fox Networks, who held exclusive NHL national broadcast rights at different times. He is currently the number one hockey announcer with NBC Sports, hockey's current US rights-holder.
Ed Snider - The long-time owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, a club that has to be viewed as one of the league's most consistent franchises in league history. He has been a leading voice among the NHL's board of governors and his guidance of this member club of the league's first expansion has served as a prototype for the many new clubs that would follow.
With the approach of the end of 2011, a few teams have assessed their roster needs and have sought solutions in the trade market this week.
New Jersey sent forward Rod Pelley, Mark Fraser and a seventh round draft pick to the Ducks for defenseman Kurtis Foster and minor league goalie Timmo Pielmeier. At first blush this may look like an inconsequential move, but I think this could work out well for New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello. The most experienced player in this swap is Foster, a veteran defenseman who's best asset is a cannon of a point shot. The Devils anticipate that he will be a big addition to talented group of forwards in Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Zack Parise, who draw much of the focus on the attack down low and close to the opposing net. Foster's presence should disarm the tendency for penalty killers to focus on these forwards in the Devils' power play.
A separate deal saw the Montreal Canadiens acquire Tomas Kaberle from Carolina in exchange for Jaroslav Spacek, in a swap of veteran defensemen who both carry a large salary cap hit. This deal was initiated by Hurricane GM Jim Rutherford's rather public dressing down of the underwhelming performance by Kaberle, dating back to his poor conditioning upon entry to the team's season-opening training camp. Seeing that Kaberle carried a cap hit of $4.25 M for the next two seasons and that he was nowhere near living up to expectations, Rutherford probably jumped at the chance to dump this pact. Spacek's deal of $3.833 M expires at the end of this season, giving Rutherford some flexibility on the cap. Montreal was a willing partner because they have to try to fill the hole created by the ongoing injury troubles of Andrei Markov. The Habs are also aware that Kaberle has played some of his best hockey against Montreal dating back to his days as a Maple Leaf and are clearly hoping that he is energized by a return to a Canadian hockey mecca. Oddly enough, both players notched a pair of assists in their first games with their new clubs.
In Philadelphia, the Flyers have more than Giroux's injury to worry about. Their captain and acknowledged team leader Chris Pronger has suffered a number of injury setbacks this season and is another player who is out with concussion issues. The Flyers did play well in their first game without these stars, but their prolonged absence is something that this Flyer team is not equipped to survive because they are a much different team than the one that was led by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last season. This is a younger group that will search for new guiding lights in the troubled water that lie ahead. Jaromir Jagr, at 39 years of age, even though he has 25 points in 25 games, is not that leader type any more and he will see his production dip without Giroux on his line.
Andy Murray walked the plank in Los Angeles as the Kings are nowhere near the expectations that many observers had for them at the beginning of this season. A team with superstar Drew Doughty and top goalie Jonathan Quick behind a deep group of talented forwards and a strong recent draft history should be better than their current 13-13-4 record. A coach will get punted every time in this scenario.
The practice ice claimed one of the league's ironmen this week as Marty St Louis of the Tampa Lightning was hit in the eye by an errant puck. Bleeding behind the eye has prevented an accurate assessment regarding the extent of the injury but it will likely cause him to be out of the Bolts' lineup for a number of games. Look to a player like Teddy Purcell, who was a revelation last season but is currently struggling, to be one player that Tampa will rely on to pick up the slack.
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