Northwest: Concussions a major headache for entire division

By Blake Benzel

Photo: The consussion suffered by Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin is just the latest in a long list in the NHL’s Northwest Division (courtesy of

Bob Frid/Icon SMI)

Concussions are one of the hot button topics in the NHL currently and, with Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin now out with a concussion, it could be argued that no division has been affected by the “epidemic” more than the Northwest Division.

Just look at the list of players that have missed significant time this season with concussions and you’ll see the impact that these injuries have had on the division. For the Canucks, Sedin and defenseman Keith Ballard are sidelined with the injury, while the Edmonton Oilers are currently missing both Taylor Hall and Theo Peckham with concussions. The Minnesota Wild lost both Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard for the season with concussions early on in the year, and possibly defenseman Jared Spurgeon recently, and the Avalanche’s Peter Mueller missed almost a season and a half because of one. Even the Flames were affected, with Mike Cammalleri missing time with an “upper body injury,” which is most teams’ code for a concussion, and Cory Sarich out with the same injury after a collision on Mar. 20.

Looking at that list, you can see how concussions have affected, or have potentially affected, these teams’ seasons and, as it can happen in the blink of an eye, it is a difficult injury to protect against.

It happened so quick,” Mueller told the Denver Post on Mar. 4 upon returning to action for the Avalanche. “Next thing I knew, I was in the room getting the concussion test and wondering what was going to happen this time around.”

That’s the other difficult issue surrounding concussions. Each one is different and each player is different. No matter what the league does to try to minimize the injuries, there’s no surefire way to prevent the injuries.

Many ideas have been bandied about by the league and by hockey pundits, but none can be seen as surefire ways to prevent the injury.

Taking out the redline to slow down the game a bit, softening shoulder and elbow pads, eliminating hits to the head – all are good ideas, but only the latter has been implemented and, even then, its implementation has been shaky at best because of an inconsistency in how the penalty is called.

Penalties, though, is an idea that Canucks forward Henrik Sedin would like to see pursued further.

On the ice, the referees should have an easier time giving out a few more minutes for the dangerous hits, I think – elbows, boarding, charging and that kind of stuff,” Sedin told the Vancouver Sun. “They’re going to injure players. Players are going to respect that more, maybe, than a one or two-game suspension, because if you hurt your team in a game and you lose because of a stupid play, that’s going to hurt more in front of your teammates than, maybe, a one or two-game suspension.”

While the idea is closer to a solution than the NHL has come up with to this point, the epidemic isn’t going to fix itself. It appears, in many cases, that a culture change needs to occur in the NHL in order for that to happen.

Many of the hits, dirty or otherwise, that cause the concussions are altogether preventable with simple respect.

The culture of the NHL currently promotes finishing your check, even when that check is on a person in a vulnerable position. This doesn’t mean that checking needs to leave the game, but it means that the players need to have the decency and respect for one another not to finish their checks in these instances.

The game is fast and, odds are, you’re not going to eliminate these types of hits entirely – things happen too quickly on the ice for that – but you can eliminate some of them, which the league has tried to do in its implementation of the head-shot rule.

In order to stem the tide of these injuries – the NHL as a whole have suffered 93 injuries from concussions this season – the NHL is going to have to do something more than they’re doing now, and it starts with the players.

Northwest Division Notes

Edmonton Oilers forward, Taylor Hall, will miss the remainder of the season after opting to have shoulder surgery. Hall made mention that the injury has been a lingering one from his junior hockey days that has progressively gotten worse. … The Minnesota Wild signed one of their top prospects, Jason Zucker, to an entry-level contract on Tuesday. It is speculated that Zucker could find his way into the team’s line up before the season ends, possibly as soon as Thursday. … The Vancouver Canucks appear to be on the cusp of their 400th straight sellout at Rogers Arena on Wednesday. The streak ranks third among active sports franchises with only the Boston Red Sox and Dallas Mavericks ahead of them.