Kurt Sauer

Coyotes’ Kurt Sauer still dealing with concussion effects from 2009 injury

Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Kurt Sauer is a guy we haven’t heard from much in the last couple of seasons. Last year, Sauer played in just one game last season on October 3, 2009 against Los Angeles. In that game, Sauer suffered a neck injury that translated into a concussion.

Sauer hasn’t played another game since then and while many fans can get impatient waiting and hoping for their favorite player to get back from a concussion (as is the case with Sidney Crosby, Mike Green, and David Perron), as we’re finding out getting healthy from a brain injury like that is of vital importance.

As we learned from the sad tale of former Red Wings and Blackhawks enforcer Bob Probert, concussions take their toll over time as Probert was discovered to have CTE, a degenerative brain disease. While Sauer is out with a concussion of his own, we’re finding out that the recovery from such an injury can be debilitating, frustrating, and disheartening. Sarah McLellan of The Arizona Republic caught up with Sauer to see how he’s doing and his story is a must-read for anyone trying to get an idea of how tough it can be to bounce back from a concussion. This excerpt deals with how he handled things in 2009 after being injured.

He worked on his conditioning in practice, but one day he did a figure 8 and never stopped spinning. He started doing balance therapy and worked at it until the All-Star break. When he returned from a five-day hiatus, he wore an extremely loose helmet. After a brief workout, Sauer felt dizzy, and all of a sudden his helmet was hugging his skull.

That was the last time he trained on the ice.

Since then, Sauer continued therapy for a 16-week period to no avail. He’s seen doctors specializing in the neck, spine and brain, and no one has a clear diagnosis.

“It’s a peculiar set of symptoms,” Sauer said. “It doesn’t fit into one category.”

When he wakes up at 6:30, it takes him an hour and a half to get out of bed. A headache persists for most of the day, and his eyes hurt and ears ring. The right side of his neck aches, as does his right shoulder. If he deals cards, his right hand turns a shade of purple, almost green, and his veins bulge. If something startles him, he feels nauseous. Whenever he helps out at Kohl’s hockey practice, he leaves the ice feeling sick. He needs a nap after trying to teach Kade how to ride a bike.

McLellan’s look into what Sauer’s life is all about now as the symptoms and ailments that still linger is both touching and sad. While he gets to be the house dad to his four children (Kade, Kohl, Kasen, and Kruz) his inability to even be a fully functional and fun-loving dad is hindered by the lingering effects of his injury as he’s unable to sit through a full hockey practice or teach them how to ride a bike without feeling nauseous or needing a nap.

Stories like this from Sauer should be the sort of thing the NHL and NHLPA take a closer look at as it’s an example of just how bad things can be for what was always treated as a minor injury. While Major League Baseball has gone the proactive route instituting a trial seven-day disabled list for those with concussion symptoms, the NHL (and NFL likewise) are more high-contact sports where physicality is part of the nature of the beast. Sauer’s story as well as the long recovery time for other stars like David Perron and Sidney Crosby should be all the proof the NHL needs to know they need to be more vigilant in protecting the players in one way or another.

Stories like Sauer’s should be used as a prime example of why things must be improved and while things are moving in the right direction thanks to what happened to Crosby, it shouldn’t take a superstar’s absence to get the wheels spinning faster in the right direction for player safety.

Report: NHLPA rejects proposal to extend CBA in exchange for Olympics

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The NHLPA has rejected a proposal from the National Hockey League to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics, according to reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press.v

The NHL’s participation in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang remains in doubt, mostly due to the cost of insurance and other expenses that go with sending players. In the past, those expenses have been handled by the IOC and IIHF but they are reluctant to foot the bill for the 2018 games.

In recent weeks the NHL presented the NHLPA with an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for extending the current CBA through the year 2025, while also eliminating an opt-out clause that exists in 2019.

It was expected that the NHLPA would not be willing to accept that offer from the league.

On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said it is in the best interest of all parties for NHL players to participate in the 2018 games, telling the Olympic Channel “all the rational arguments are speaking in favor of participation.”

There is a January deadline set for participation in 2018.

Back in September NHL deputy commissioner said it is possible the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for 2022 in Beijing.

NHL players have participated in the past five Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

There seems to be a desire among the players to participate. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, for example,  has repeatedly said he plans on playing whether the NHL goes or not.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.

Pre-game reading: Some advice for Nolan Patrick

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discuss the Penguins’ two-goalie situation, which GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted was not working as well as he’d hoped.

Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, is currently out with an injury. Tyler Benson, a top draft prospect last year who battled injuries, has some advice for Patrick: “I don’t think he should be worrying about the draft. People know what kind of player he can be. He’s played two years in this league already and he’s dominated. I think he should worry about making sure he’s 100 per cent when he comes back.” Benson was eventually selected 32nd overall by the Oilers. (The Province)

— A couple of weeks ago, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got mad at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper after an editorial called on him to push for an outdoor game at TD Place. Yada, yada, yada, Melynk is now pushing for an outdoor game at TD Place. (Ottawa Sun)

Hampus Lindholm has been good defensively in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, but with only two assists in his first 11 games, you have to think he’ll want to start contributing more to the offense soon. Lindholm is now the highest-paid defenseman on his team, with a cap hit just over $5 million. And if the Ducks have to trade Cam Fowler at any point, they’ll need Lindholm’s offense even more. That’s just the pressure that comes with a big contract. We’ll see how he fares. (OC Register)

— In 2015-16, no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1969-70. So, how are things looking this season? Long story short, quite a bit better. Three of the seven Canadian teams are currently in a playoff spot, and the other four aren’t out of it yet. (TSN)

— What a surprise, the Winnipeg Jets hurt themselves with too many penalties last night against Edmonton. “Those early penalties and how much time we spent in the box early on killed us,” said Bryan Little. “Our PK couldn’t get it done.” This has been a problem for way too long now. Over the last three seasons combined, the Jets have gone shorthanded 686 times, the most in the NHL. Clearly, they aren’t good enough to play with such poor discipline, so perhaps they should figure it out. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!