NHL has more work to do on concussions

Another day, another concussion story.

Once again Ray Shero and the Pittsburgh Penguins are busy addressing Sidney Crosby rumors rather than the upcoming season. Concussion updates have become the all-too-common and disturbing theme for NHL clubs this summer.

As is often the case, hockey chatter follows the stars. So when Crosby went from 25-game point streak wunderkind to concussed superstar, the concussion talk ramped up a notch.

It’s worrisome when a player of Crosby’s importance continues to encounter symptoms eight months after the injury. Yes, Crosby is the face of the NHL in many respects. His injury is harmful to the league and is causing some headaches for the NHL brass. Fortunately for those in the NHL offices, they don’t have to suffer the same headaches as Crosby.

The reality is that Crosby is a 24-year-old with a serious injury to his brain. Nothing should take away from that scary reality.

Crosby will come back to the game. It’ll most likely be this season and if all goes well for him, he’ll once again be a scoring machine displaying all the good points of the game of hockey. But that injury will remain with Crosby and leave him with a greater susceptibility for another concussion.

In a sport where careers are relatively short in the best cases, concussions have added a layer of complexity that the NHL seems to be struggling to address publicly.

For those who look at the concussion issue without bias, there are signs that the league is making efforts. However, from an equally unbiased viewpoint, the league cannot deny that the concussion issue has continually been addressed reactively rather than proactively.

So to help grease the wheels of change, let’s take a quick tour of some of the most recent concussion situations for NHL players.

• Paul Kariya

Despite 989 points in 989 games, one can easily argue that Kariya never reached his full potential due to repeated concussions. Even after missing the entire 2010-11 season to recover from his most recent concussion, Kariya was forced to retire at the age of 36. A two-time Lady Byng winner, Kariya had no reservations about criticizing the league for the lack of action in punishing offenders and preventing concussions. He was a true class act throughout his career and deserved to leave on his own terms.

• David Perron

A key piece of the St. Louis Blues’ future, Perron recently revealed that he won’t be ready to start the upcoming season. At 23 years of age, Perron has barely started his promising career. While Perron will soon have to measure his time missed in years rather than months, Joe Thornton can measure his games-lost punishment for inflicting the injury on one hand. Watch the hit.

• Marc Savard

Although Savard got a day with the cup this summer, his mind was clearly elsewhere. A strong career which has seen the 34-year-old accumulate 706 points in 807 games should have been capped off by last season’s Stanley Cup victory. Instead, Savard played only 25 games in 2010-11 and wasn’t able to dress for a single playoff game. His primary concern now is being able to recuperate to the point where he can enjoy time with his young family. Being forced into retirement is becoming more and more likely for Savard.

• Matthew Lombardi

Lombardi should be hitting the prime of his career. After a somewhat inconsistent time in Calgary, Lombardi had a career year with Phoenix and was able to land in Nashville with a large contract and first-line potential. After a mere two games in the music city he suffered a severe concussion and his return to hockey is being talked about as an “if” rather than a “when” situation.

• Derek Boogaard

The most unfortunate of all these situations, Boogaard’s story continues to be played out. Boogaard made his money by giving and taking hits to the head. He was an enforcer in every sense of the word. Boogaard didn’t die on the ice from a concussion, but much like Bob Probert, he represents the unfortunate and devastating side effects of consistent head injuries. Personality changes, depression and drug/alcohol abuse are being more closely tied to concussions and Boogaard’s untimely passing is the most recent, but sadly not the last, example of this.

Names such as Boogaard may not carry the same weight as Crosby in the court of public opinion, but aside from style of play, they are no different as people.

If we look further back, the concussion situation is well-entrenched in hockey. Names such as Lindros come up in every discussion. In a sport such as hockey, concussions are an inevitable reality, but that doesn’t negate their severity in the minds of both players and fans.

While the NHL continues to tinker with Rule 48, which addresses hits to the head, players at all levels of hockey will continue to suffer concussions. And while many leagues institute stronger punishments for those whose careless and purposeful actions inflict these injuries, the NHL leadership will try to sell the benefits of removing the word “blindside.”

The Crosby rumors will once again played down as just that — rumors — but one can only hope pressure from fans, media and the general public continues to push the NHL toward a more dedicated, substantial and proactive stance against concussions in hockey.