Friday, February 11, 2011

On Cooke and Crosby and Concussions

Every mainstream media talking head is up in arms about concussions in today's NHL because Sidney Crosby MIGHT miss the rest of the season. MIGHT. As in it's not even known yet just how long he'll be out.

The saddest part of Crosby's concussion is that THIS is what it takes to get this issue addressed. A superstar getting hurt.

Oh, what's that, you say, Marc Savard?

You had a concussion long before Sidney Crosby did? And it was from his teammate, Matt Cooke? On a blatantly dirty play, prior to which you had what one can assume was a perfectly clean bill of health?

You see, my friends, THIS is what's wrong with the NHL. I mentioned it before in my now infamous newspaper interview with the Detroit Free Press.

"I believe the NHL has its own interests besides individual markets," [I] said. "They're trying to look out for the big picture."

Cooke, playing for Pittsburgh, takes out a Boston player, Savard, with what will be known as one of the dirtiest hockey plays this side of Claude Lemieux and gets away scott-free. Where was the "we've gotta stop this shit, pronto" discussion then? There might have been murmurs here and there, but no one was really hoisting that flag.

Fast forward to now. Here we have Crosby, Pittsburgh's shiny gold star, out indefinitely from what I believe to be incidental and minor instances that lead to what I've only seen as a 'mild' and 'grade I' concussion. And I say that as a HOCKEY fan. Not as a Gary-Bettman-hating-Sidney-Crosby-effigy-burning Red Wings fan. But now there's a big anti-concussion movement stirring in the ranks of the NHL front office.

Let's take a brief look at the Steckel hit. The Capitals are moving the puck up-ice, Steckel is rushing to join the play. Crosby is skating with his head turned, watching the puck with that Gretzky-esque "don't touch me, I'm a superstar" attitude.
Boom, Crosby gets blindsided.
Blindsided, right? That means dirty play, doesn't it?


Steckel and Crosby were doing the same exact thing, watching Hendricks carry the puck up ice. You can see in the replays that Steckel drops his shoulder right before impact. I believe whole-heartedly that that was an attempt to AVOID hitting Crosby. Think about it. If you drop your shoulder like that before hitting something, it's usually trying to make your profile slimmer to avoid getting hit. You see that more in hockey players sidestepping a check rather than making one.

You know what you don't see in players that are looking to avoid contact with another player? Leading with the elbow. That's what Cooke did. Just like in other plays where he's lead with the elbow. Or the knee. Or hitting from behind. Or some other illegal NHL action. The fact of the matter is Cooke has been involved is no many dirty plays wearing that Penguins jersey, it's absolutely absurd that he's only been suspended 6 games. 6 games for a dirty hit, that sounds about right, right? It would be better if that weren't a cumulative total. If you break it down, he's averaging less than 1 game's worth of suspension for the amount of dirty play he's done. Showcased by Don Cherry, starting at 1:14 in is a nice little montage of dirty plays he's been involved in. And through all of that, there's only been 6 games of suspension? And 4 of those came from what I think might be the least offensive hit of all of those.

Let's get back to the main issue here. Concussions are tricky, tricky beasts. Once you have one, you're more susceptible to more. Let's say (as is the likely case) that Crosby got his concussion in that play. That freak, accidental play. I don't care if you're a superstar in this league. If you have even a CHANCE at having a brain injury, you wait it out until you know damn well that you're good to go again. You don't go play again 4 days later and hope for the best.

Let's look at another concussion case that Red Wings fans are all to familiar with. Andreas Lilja. He missed 370 days returning from his concussion. That's a year and 5 days. Not just 4. And you know why? Because he did it RIGHT. He wasn't rushed back, and he didn't rush himself back. He took his time and made sure that he was good to go again. And when he did return, he was a solid addition to the team. He wasn't a liability.

No one knows who's really at fault for Crosby's playing against Tampa Bay. Was it the medical staff okaying him too soon, was it him lying to the medical staff to get okayed too soon, was it the coaches or some other influential person? We don't know the answers to that. But in his returning to that game against the Lightning, he made himself a bigger liability to the team than he helped them by playing. He's been out since. And we don't know when he'll be coming back.

So now the NHL has a problem they have to address. But let's be real here. This isn't about the NHL protecting the players. It's about protecting their assets. Do people in Phoenix buy tickets to see Marc Savard or Andreas Lilja? No. But they come to see the NHL's golden boy Crosby. So if he's not playing, the NHL is going to suffer. So now they are putting on the concerned hats and acting all worried about the players.

It's not about keeping the player's best interests in mind, or making sure that they're going to be okay post-career. It's about making sure their pockets are lined.

As always, comments are appreciated.


  1. Great post, Rob, and I wholeheartedly agree. I thought the Steckel hit was a flukey thing that did more damage than anyone believed (or wanted to believe).

    If you watch the final episode of 24/7, one of the trainers goes up to Crosby during the intermission and Crosby can't recollect what happened - he just knew he got hit. Of course Crosby tried to pin the blame on it being blindside, but if he had been more aware of his surroundings it would have been moot.

    What the team didn't do was err on the side of caution and sit him for the next game, the Tampa Bay game. What was a called boarding on Hedman (it WAS a boarding call and warranted the penalty as such) was not entirely dirty. It was a penalty but as far as boardings go, it wasn't a very STRONG hit.

    The underlying damage from Steckel's hit was compounded by the Hedman hit, and most likely wouldn't have done any real damage had he not been previously injured.

    Unfortunately it takes a guy like Crosby getting injured to actually raise alarm bells to the NHL brass. Marc Savard's career is in jeopardy and no one bats an eye, but when the golden goose goes down, the NHL tries to lead a charge against headshots.

    Mildly ironic that it's Crosby calling for rule changes when he's the victim but when his own teammate destroys a player's career, he's hush-hush. We all know Crosby isn't in the business of being a good sportsman, what with his inability to honour traditions as simple as shaking hands, but that's disgusting.

    I'm glad a guy like Andrew Ference can come out and say that Paille, his teammate, needs to lay off on hits. That shows true leadership and even cohesiveness - Ference was confident enough in his team that he wouldn't feel any repercussions or locker room shunning. Good on the Bruins for being a tight group and not breaking up the fabric of the team.

  2. I particularly enjoyed reading Bill Guerin's take on Cooke's hit:

    "We're all under the same umbrella, whether the guy's on my team and I'm sitting right next to him or he's playing in California," Guerin said. "It doesn't matter. We're all playing in the same league. We all want the same safety. We all want to be looked after the same way. I understand [Cooke] is on my team but, hey, he's in a tough spot."

    It takes a lot to say that about a teammate, but Guerin was brought to the Pens to be a veteran presence and a mentor, and he nailed it. Unfortunately, the league didn't care then. But when green Crosby, far from the level of respect Guerin has earned, run his mouth, the NHL is all ears.

  3. Great posts. All i've got to add is this: whatever it takes. Cindy's anger, and the league tongue-clucking, are stomach-churning in their self-ishness and seeming hypocrisy. But they're buying in - for their own reasons, yeah, but they're in. And Ference and Guerin in public (and no doubt others in private) are right there, advancing the conversation, calling guys out. Whatever it takes to evolve the gameplay, whatever it takes to make it happen.

    Layin' on a good hit's as much a skill as the dangle, or snipe. I don't want that aspect of play eliminated! But, maybe the league needs to say: intent doesn't matter, hit somebody in the head & you're sittin'. Period.