By RGM81 aka Richard McAdam

 

            Throughout the summer there have been sporadic updates on the condition of Sidney Crosby as he continues his rehabilitation from a devastating pair of concussions he received back in January. The news from the Pittsburgh Penguins that surfaced in early August is that Crosby is still experiencing “some recurrence of concussion symptoms,” according to the team’s General Manager, Ray Shero. This was followed up with word that Crosby had ceased all on-ice activities of his off-season training regime in Halifax. The latter was disputed by Crosby’s agent, who stated that it was “too early to tell” whether Crosby was going to miss the start of training camp. While we know that each individual’s experience with concussions and post-concussion syndrome varies, to hear that Crosby is still suffering problems over eight months after the two that he received in early 2011[1] is greatly disturbing.

 

            That Crosby was at the point where he was doing on-ice drills during the summer in itself was progress. His previous efforts to come back this past spring to join the Penguins for the playoffs resulted in an exacerbation of the post-concussion symptoms and meant that the on-ice efforts were shut down by Crosby’s doctors. It has been a long, slow process in which progress has not been steady. The setbacks are throwing up red flags. And it all leaves people wondering: will the spectacular, though still young, career of Sidney Crosby be ended prematurely?

             Several months ago, I wrote an article for SCF entitled, “The NHL Must Ban All Headshots.” In this article I discussed the science of concussions and pointed out the fact that once a person has suffered an initial concussion, they are more easily susceptible to future brain trauma and that the effects compound with each successive concussion. They can occur from much less forceful jarring contact, and it makes it such that a player can be jeopardizing his own long-term health by stepping on the ice too soon after an injury. While Crosby gets many of the headlines, there are two other active players that also find themselves in limbo.

 

Marc Savard’s career hangs in the balance after he was seemingly innocuously hit into the boards by Matt Hunwick last spring. The hit was strong, to be sure, but nowhere near matching the ferocity of the blindside hit from Matt Cook the previous year, which gave Savard his initial concussion problems. Savard is still suffering symptoms and has expressed great concern about his current quality of life. He described his fears as follows, “I think the thing that scares me the most are little memory things, where I forget that I’ve asked someone a question, or little things like that that scare me. The odd dizzy stuff, so that’s also something that worries me.”[2] Similarly, David Perron of the St. Louis Blues is also questionable to resume his career and it has already been confirmed that he will not be ready to return at the start of the season. Perron’s campaign was ended in November when he took a blindside hit to the head from the elbow of Joe Thornton and was concussed. His progress has been slow, and given that Perron is the same age as Crosby he will find himself asking the same questions about his long-term health and quality of life, and finding out if that can balance with continuing to live his dream of playing in the NHL.

 

            The first concussion-inducing hit laid on Crosby—the David Steckel “accidental” headshot at the Winter Classic—was a pretty tough hit to watch. Crosby’s head was the principal point of contact with Steckel’s body, and while one could argue whether or not Steckel meant to hit/hurt Crosby, it definitely left a mark. The second concussion, which came from Victor Hedman putting Crosby into the boards and glass on the type of “bear hug” play that Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke wants to allow back into the game, was much like the Hunwick hit on Savard. On first glance, it did not look to be a severe hit that would result in serious injury. It is only when you watch the replay slowly that you see Crosby’s head bounce off the glass that you see why the second concussion occurred. For Crosby, who was already sufficiently dazed during the latter half of the Winter Classic that he missed jumping out on the ice as the extra attacker when the Penguins pulled Marc-Andre Fleury, his brain was already traumatized and the second jarring collision compounded the problems of the first.

 

            So what does all of this mean for Crosby’s future? Can he overcome these problems and play out his career as the same dominant figure that he was for his first five and a half seasons? Or will the injuries sustained affect his play and force him to be a more cautious and self-protective player? He has long been renowned for his strength and ability to go to the dirty areas to fish out pucks and win battles along the boards. If he has it in his mind that he needs to watch his head at the risk of serious injury (moreso than the “keep your head on a swivel” expected of any NHLer), it will affect his play. To be sure, a Sidney Crosby even at 60% would still be a premier player in the NHL, but even though better than most it’s still not Crosby at his best.

             It is somewhat inevitable that until Crosby is given a clean bill of health and a positive prognosis that there will be questions about his future. There will also be premature post-mortems and comparisons to Bobby Orr, a spectacular player that achieved much but could have been even more legendary has his career not been derailed by injury. Crosby is still just 24 years old, and it is incredible to think of all of his accomplishments to date. He has a Stanley Cup ring, a full trophy case, and he scored the goal of a generation in Vancouver in 2010. There are some in the media who are saying outright that he should retire because there “are no goals left for him in the game. At best, all he achieves from now on is more of the same.”[3] While that may be true, it is still a special sight to be able to watch a spectacular player at the height of his dominance. Whether we get to see that in the form of Crosby again is still very much up in the air.

 

[1] It does bear mentioning that the plural form is taking hold in the media’s talks about Crosby’s troubles. For the first few months they’d only said that he had a concussion, and now it is evident that he suffered two head traumas in early January.

[2] Joe Yerdon, “It’s Official: Marc Savard is done for the season and playoffs with concussion,” Pro Hockey Talk 7 Feb. 2011. 17 Aug. 2011 <http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2011/02/07/its-official-marc-savard-is-done-for-the-season-and-playoffs-with-concussion/>

[3] Cathal Kelly, “Why Sidney Crosby Should Retire Now,” Toronto Star 23 Aug 2011 http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/nhl/article/1043394–kelly-why-sidney-crosby-should-retire-now