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GMs take a stand to protect goalies

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The next time a goaltender is flattened the way Ryan Miller, there will be consequences for the checker. (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

By Stu Hackel

When we first wrote Monday about Milan Lucic’s hit on Ryan Miller in last Saturday’s Sabres-Bruins game, the gist of that post was that the decision taken that day by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety would be pivotal in helping clarify what is permissible with regard to contact with goaltenders. The rules themselves are pretty straight-forward, but as we wrote, “Whether the NHL will back them up here is the issue.”

However, it wasn’t the Player Safety boys who backed up the rules — they didn’t; they gave Lucic a free pass. It turned out that the NHL’s general managers — who purely by coincidence were scheduled to meet on Tuesday and who provide direction to Brendan Shanahan’s group — defended the rule and instructed the league to be more forceful next time when dealing with hits like Lucic’s.

And that is a boost not just for goaltenders, but also for player safety in the NHL.
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  • Published On Nov 16, 2011
  • Dryden, Joyce and others offer compelling weekend reading

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    Sidney Crosby is back on the ice, but only time will tell if he’s the same player. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    We go into the final weekend before the NHL’s regular season with headlines concerned less than ever with who will be the third line winger or sixth defenseman for this team or that and focused more than ever on the big issue of the offseason and preseason: player safety and specifically, brain injuries.

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  • Published On Sep 30, 2011
  • Research paints a dire picture for the NHL’s concussion victims

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    Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who was concussed when hit by brother Eric (left) last February, is still feeling the effects and has been sidelined for three preseason games. (Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The insidious nature of concussions to NHL players continues to make news. Some of that news is good regarding Sidney Crosby, the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, the Avalanche’s Peter Mueller and Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Wild. Some isn’t so good, particularly involving Marc Staal of the Rangers.

    The Blueshirts blueliner, who is considered the top man in their young defense corps, will be held out of the team’s first three preseason games, the result of a concussion he apparently suffered last February and from which he developed symptoms over the summer.
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  • Published On Sep 19, 2011
  • Belak’s death casts cloud over fighting in NHL

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    It’s no secret enforcers like Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard have one of sports’ most physically and emotionally demanding jobs. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    With today’s report in The Toronto Star that Wade Belak suffered from depression, we have a possible explanation for an event that has shocked many who knew him and alarmed many more. Belak, found dead in a Toronto hotel on Wednesday, is the third NHL enforcer to die since May. His death has been reported by some as a suicide, the same talk that surrounded the death of Rick Rypien in mid-August. Derek Boogaard’s case was ruled accidental, due to a lethal mixture of alcohol and pain killers.

    Belak had just retired, but some connection between his occupation as a hockey tough guy and the closely spaced deaths of the other two enforcers has been sought.

    “I think sometimes we get caught up in generalizations,” Allain Roy, Rypien’s agent, told John Branch of The New York Times today. “We have three sad instances where we have three young men who struggled with their lives off the ice. Whether their role played a piece in it, I think it’s almost impossible for anybody to draw that straight line through it — to say, all right, they were enforcers, and this is why this happened to them.”

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  • Published On Sep 02, 2011
  • NHL vulnerable to NFL concussion lawsuit

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    Fighting is just one form of neurologically dangerous behavior the NHL allows. (Bill Greenblatt-UPI/Landov)

    By Stu Hackel

    Will the recent class action suit by former NFL players – who allege that their league trained players to hit with their heads, failed to properly treat them for concussions and tried to conceal for decades any links between football and brain injuries — have an impact on the National Hockey League? One player agent thinks so.

    Massachusetts-based Kent Hughes, whose NHL clients include Patrice Bergeron, Peter Mueller and Matthew Lombardi, who have suffered severe concussions, told Mathias Brunet of La Presse that the lawsuit “opens up a can of worms” for the NHL. “I feel that the NHL will closely monitor what happens in the NFL,” said Hughes.

    A big part of that can of worms has to do with fighting in the NHL.
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  • Published On Aug 23, 2011
  • Perron’s stalled recovery, NHL rule tests, a new White Shark

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    David Perron was at the center of a contentious concussion debate last season. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    David Perron has the potential to be exactly what the St. Louis Blues need: an exciting, high-scoring winger who can create and finish scoring plays. He hit the 20-goal mark in his third NHL season at 21 years old, and last season had five goals in his first 10 games as the Blues went 7-1-2.

    Perron was concussed in his 10th game on a blindside hit by the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and the Blues were never quite the same again. They missed the playoffs and Perron missed the rest of the season. Now the word out of St. Louis is that he won’t be ready for training camp and that’s just not good news.

    Perron’s plight hasn’t gotten the attention some other more well-known concussion victims (like Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard) received, but his injury was no less devastating and it seems to have had a larger impact on his team. It has served as a flashpoint for how the NHL sometimes negatively reacts to change, although this incident certainly played a role in the league recognizing the need to make Rule 48 stronger for next season.

    And Perron’s situation also serves as an important reminder of why concussions are so insidious, because every one is different and they sometimes can be very difficult, if not impossible, to immediately detect and diagnose.
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  • Published On Aug 03, 2011
  • Torres keeps Headshot Theatre rolling

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    By Stu Hackel

    Headshot Theatre is staying open late this season, maybe all the way into the playoffs, as Raffi Torres of the Canucks clobbered the Oilers’ Jordan Eberle in the video above during Tuesday night’s 2-0 Edmonton victory. The blow earned Torres a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. We’ll learn sometime before Thursday, when the Canucks host the Wild, if Torres will be suspended.

    Looking repeatedly at all three angles on the replay, it’s not clear that Torres actually led with his elbow. In fact, it looks more like contact was made with his shoulder. And if Hockey Ops sees it that way, too, Torres might not get any time off. Or he might, since Eberle’s head was targeted. Or he might not, because he was traveling north-south, which removes the blindside element. Hey, you never know.
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  • Published On Apr 06, 2011
  • Komisarek sparks a thorny headshot debate

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    By Stu Hackel

    When the NHL resumes its deliberations on what will constitute an illegal hit to the head next season, the one above by Toronto’s 6-foot-4, 243-pound defenseman Mike Komisarek on Colorado’s 5-foot-10, 170-pound rookie Mark Olver will be among the most contentious types of blows. It left Olver trying to crawl off the ice, weakened and apparently dazed, unable to make it back to the bench. He left the game and did not return.

    This was not an illegal check under the current rules. But it is a perfect example of the challenges the NHL faces as it mulls the changes it needs to reduce concussions.
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  • Published On Mar 25, 2011
  • Injury impact report: Western Conference

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    In a tight fight for a playoff berth, the Blackhawks could ill afford to have forward Patrick Sharp go down with an injury after he had proved to be very effective on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The Capitals’ surprise announcement on Monday that Alex Ovechkin would be sidelined for the next week-to-10 days while he heals from an undisclosed ailment (perhaps the dreaded “upper body injury” to his lower body) was followed on Tuesday with word that the Kings have lost winger Justin Williams for 3-4 weeks with a separated shoulder. The word on Ovie came a day after the Blackhawks said that top center Patrick Sharp would be out with a knee problem.

    The injury parade in the NHL, especially to so many important players, has never seemed as long. At this stage of the season, some of these absences either have already had, or will have, an impact on the stretch drive and into the playoffs.

    As with Ovechkin, some clubs seem intent on resting key players who have some knocks and dings so that they’re in better shape for the playoffs. Those teams feel they’re already safe in their playoff positions and are looking ahead to the spring tournament. Others don’t have that luxury and may not have some key players at 100 percent when the postseason starts.

    Here’s a look at the teams that are still in the Western Conference playoff picture and how their current injury situation affects their chances. (Click here for the Eastern Conference.)
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  • Published On Mar 24, 2011
  • A day of change for an embattled league

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    By Stu Hackel

    Say this for the NHL: This league can, at times, respond to the problems it faces with some degree of swiftness and decisiveness. The image of the league — which is well-earned and still deserved in some instances (like 15 years to rid the rinks of seamless glass)– is one of an organization that changes at a glacial speed. But the GM’s have met, discussed and deliberated some serious issues this week against the backdrop of a few truly harrowing incidents in the past few months. At times, those incidents made the game seem out of control, and the GMs recognized areas that needed to be fixed and have begun the process of fixing them.

    They were able to do so because of some internal help — the Hockey Operations Department seems again to have gathered relevant statistics, video and other evidence to crystallize the issues, and influential owners have gotten involved. There has also been some external help — the scientific evidence of progressive brain disease in former enforcers, as well as reaction by fans, media and, for the first time, sponsors to some of the worst situations the NHL has witnessed in a while.

    Some of the changes being proposed this week in Boca Raton have been in the works for quite a while. A few have been more immediate responses to newer events. But if the league was hoping to answer its critics and allay the fears of fans and sponsors, it did a good job. Now comes the hard part: getting all these good proposals and pronouncements to produce a safer game that continues to be entertaining (and TSN’s Bob McKenzie, speaking on Wednesday’s “Morning Show” over Montreal’s Team 990 radio, adds that how these proposals will look as rules is still unknown; his very interesting take can be heard on this page).

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  • Published On Mar 15, 2011


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