The concussion has to be the most frustrating injury in sports. Each brain reacts differently to a bruise. There are no outward physical signs, guys don't limp or need a cast. Yet they can be debilitating and career-ending.
On the current Blues roster, Kris Russell, Matt D'Agostini and Alex Steen are currently out of action with concussion issues. There's only one other guy injured and that's Jamie Langenbrunner out with a broken foot. He could come back in three or four weeks, possibly before any of the other three.
Of course earlier this season David Perron returned after a concussion in November 2010 and 91 games missed. Andy McDonald Missed more than half the season with his second concussion in two years. Carlo Colaicovo was out for a short time with symptoms. So that's six guys who have missed games this season recovering from brain injuries, but that only counts the ones that were accurately diagnosed. Just Monday night, Vladimir Sobotka got his bell rung and look dazed, Jason Arnott banged his head on the ice after he collided with a sliding Sobotka and David Backes was boarded, banging his head off the wall.
That's six players in one year who have missed significant amounts of time because of concussions. It didn't use to be this way in the NHL. It wasn't this way 10 years ago. It sure feels like something has changed.
The league is trying. I guess. There's the rule about contact to the head and several guys have taken unpaid nights off because of it (Hello, Ian Cole). There are the new protocols about taking players suspected of concussions into a quiet room for better evaluation. Teams seem really cautious to rush guys back into action fearing the long term effects. But concussions seem to be on the rise, and a little known site is tracking them. The numbers are alarming.
The Concussion Blog on Feb. 24 reported that its proprietors had found reports of 98 different concussions in the NHL. That total equals all of the concussions reported last year in the NHL. That sounds bad. The site also believes concussions are up 60 percent this season. That sounds worse.
If you look at the league injury list, you'll find 17 NHL players currently out with listed concussions. But you'll also see 14 guys out with undisclosed or upper body injuries (not saying those are all concussions, but a few could be hiding in there). In a league with 30 teams, having three guys out with concussions and six over the course of the year is either really unlucky...or the Blues have been more vigilant in diagnosing and reporting concussions. After it looked like Perron's career was in jeopardy this time last year, I would imagine the medical staff and front office feel obligated to take the issue seriously.
If the league is really committed to player safety (Brendan Shanahan's official department) and they want to really address the concussion issue, they need to be more proactive. First, make sure every concussion is public. Second, they should be reporting the numbers and not leaving that up to an independent website. And third, they have to show more leadership. There should be a panel of former players, equipment manufacturers and medical experts meeting regularly to look at this problem and face it head on, as it were. Why are concussions up in the NHL? Have there always been this many? What's the root of the problem and how can we address it?