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Frozen Fantasy: Brain Drain

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Sidney Crosby can’t drive a car without getting a headache. He’s only just started to watch TV again. And he’s not going to the All-Star Game because his concussion symptoms are still too intense.

Two words: Eric Lindros. The parallels are eerie.

Hear me out. Both were stud juniors and number one overall draft picks. Both hit the league under an aura of incredible hype and both delivered – no, dominated – in their first five seasons. The Big E’s five-year point-per-game average was a mind-boggling 1.51; Sid the Kid’s was almost as impressive at 1.35.

Trophies came early for both men. Each earned a Hart Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award – Crosby in his second season and Lindros in his third. Both were dominant players for their country and each was named team captain before his third season.

And each suffered his first concussion in his sixth season.

Lindros missed 18 games after that Darius Kasparaitis hit and accumulated six in the course of the next 27 months. Crosby has already missed nine games and he may have actually suffered two concussions in a matter of days – the obvious one courtesy of Dave Steckel and perhaps another when Victor Hedman crushed him into the glass.

I still can’t believe he played that game against Tampa. But that’s another rant.

Scientific evidence has started to emerge that even two or three concussions can have a cumulative effect. And they can negatively impact things like attention and processing speed.

And they can end a career. Just ask Lindros, Keith Primeau or Pat Lafontaine. And then there’s Marc Savard. Cripes, I’m not even sure if he can even answer questions right now.

The list is long… far too long.

Does anyone ever really return to pre-concussion form? That’s a hard question to answer. I do know that once you’ve had one concussion, you’re at increased risk for a second. And a third.

It’s hard to say if Crosby will suffer the same fate as Lindros. But the parallels are shocking.

And the loss to the game would be just as incalculable.

Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard, LW, Minnesota (3 percent owned) – It’s somewhat ironic that the first guy on my list is a guy who’s taken more hits to the head than Bobo the clown. He’s a brilliant playmaker but it’s hard for him to play a brave game after missing 104 games over parts of two seasons while recovering from a pair of career-threatening concussions. He’s a huge injury risk and he’s nowhere near 100 percent – even he admits that. But he has delivered 10 points in 12 games this year and six in his last five.

Joe Corvo, D, Carolina (33 percent owned) – I rolled the dice on the Canes’ blueliners on draft day and nabbed snake eyes with Jamie McBain. Then again, I would have said pretty much the same thing about Corvo, especially when he only managed 13 points in his first 36 games. But that new swimsuit calendar he got from Santa obviously inspired him when he turned the page on January. He has 13 points in 14 games this month; 10 of those have come on the PP. Alexander Edler owners should see if he’s available. And besides – if he’s good enough for Piano Man, he’s good enough for me.

Nathan Gerbe, LW/C, Buffalo (7 percent owned) – Gerbe is like a pinball on ‘roids – he’s fast, chippy and extremely talented, and can leave opponents spinning faster than Disney’s magic teacup ride. The little man has found a home in a league of redwoods despite being two inches shorter than me. He may only have 14 points on the season but he has five in his last four games and seven in his last eight. Toss in a plus-five rating, 10 PIMs and a couple of power-play goals in those eight and he has some sneaky short-term value. It can’t last – he’ll get knocked around as the going gets tougher in the second half. But he sure looks like a less-psycho Theo Fleury right now, at least talent wise.

Michael Grabner, RW, NY Islanders (8 percent owned) – It wasn’t that long ago that this skinny little speed demon was a top-five prospect in the Vancouver – the dangle and the snipe were only overshadowed by the way those 170 pounds clung to his 6-foot-1 frame. But he was jettisoned to Florida in a draft-day trade and a woeful preseason put him on waivers where the wire-happy Garth Snow snapped him up. He got off to a slow start on the Island of the Misfit Toys – he had four points in his first 15 games and just eight in his next 22 – and it looked like the Panthers might have been right. But since mid-January, Grabs has points (nine) in seven of his last eight games and that includes six goals. And he has almost as many shots (30) in that span as he had the entire first two months of his season. He won’t deliver a lot on the PP but it looks like he’s finally figured out how to play with that extra 10 pounds of muscle he added for this year.

Dan Hamhuis, D, Vancouver (11 percent owned) – Alexander Elder is out for eight-to-10 weeks and someone on the Orcas’ blue line has to fill his boots; my money’s on Hammer. He has points in four of his last five games and while he’s only eclipsed 30 points once, he’s more than just a steady Eddie on the blue line.

Brendan Morrison, C, Calgary (7 percent owned) – This guy hasn’t looked this good since his glory days as the pivot on the West Coast Express line (think Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund). He’s way past his prime and those little blue pills only last for so many hours. But the Flames are surging and he’s the top-line center between the Flames’ top two scorers, Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. He’s on a four-game scoring streak that includes three goals. You can do worse.

Theo Peckham, D, Edmonton (4 percent owned) – Teddy is here for one reason and one reason only – PIMs. He’s a complete throwback to the 70s when men were men and moustaches made sense. He’s an intimidating force on the blue line who has delivered 36 PIMs in his last 10 games. And if you’re going to punt a roster spot just to get penalty minutes, you might as well do that with a defenseman.

James Reimer, G, Toronto (6 percent owned) – He’s back and it looks like he has butterflied his way past Jonas Gustavsson on the Leafs’ depth chart. Couple that with the probability that Jean-Sebastien Giguere will be traded out of Dodge at the deadline and Reimer looks like he’ll be getting a lot of starts after the break. The Leafs have a real knack for ratcheting up their play once it’s obvious their season is toast and that moment is just a few breaths away. He’ll get the support he needs from his mates so there’s real value here, particularly for the desperate (and the smart).

Brian Rolston, LW, New Jersey (5 percent owned) – His ownership has only gone up three percent since I hyped him last week. Don’t sleep on him – he entered the break on a five-game point streak (three goals, four assists) and has 11 points in his last eight games. The Devils are 6-1-1 in those eight; this guy is a big part of the reason.

Lee Stempniak, RW, Phoenix (15 percent owned) – Stempy got the cold shoulder from 30 NHL teams – even the ‘Yotes – during free agency this past summer. He didn’t sign until August 30 and it seemed like a snub… until I saw him play. He stumbled through his first 44 games like a man groping for the light switch – he had just 18 points to show for that span and six of those had come in two games. But fast-forward to mid-January and he finally flicked that switch, and now he’s on seven-game, 11-point streak. He drained 18 points in his last 18 games last season and while keeping that pace is unlikely, he does have the talent to produce at a 60-point rate going forward. He can help.

Back to concussion symptoms.

I had my bell rung last May in an open-ice, head-on collision with someone at least four inches taller and 60 or 70 pounds heavier. It was a complete fluke – a weaker skater unpredictably stepped between us and we both changed trajectory at top speed. A split-second later, we were both on the ice after a freight train-like, head-on collision.

A dead stop. Head first, at least in my case.

My brain slammed forward on the impact and then backward when the back of my helmet smashed the ice. I didn’t lose consciousness but I did have an immediate headache. I knew enough to sit out the rest of the game. And games for the next two weeks. The headache went away relatively quickly and my most significant symptoms were a nasty case of whiplash and a displaced top rib.

Or so I thought.

It was my first concussion – how bad could it be? It’s now eight months later. And while I’ve never been good with names, I’ve noticed that I’m still completely blanking on them – names of people and things – like never before. It’s enough for me to notice it. And it’s enough to scare.

Sid the Kid isn’t a head-down skater; neither am I – that was always the rap on Lindros. But a concussion is a concussion no matter how you go it.

Let’s say a little prayer that the parallels between the two men end right now.

Until next week.

Editor's Note: Janet was selected as the Hockey Writer of the Year for 2010 by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association at the annual conference in Las Vegas last week.