Terry Pegula, Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert

Terrifying Trend: Evaluation shows Rick Martin had brain damage

1 Comment

On the last night of a positively nightmarish offseason, the league may have been dealt the most devastating long-term news of the summer. Rick Martin, NHL Hall of Famer and member of the legendary French Connection line, passed away in March at the age of 59. Tonight, researchers from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy revealed that Martin had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)—a disease that has repeatedly been linked to brain trauma.

Martin is the third NHL player to donate his brain to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (a joint venture between the Sports Legacy Institute and Boston University). Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert had previously donated their brains to the center for research—both were found to have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Sadly, Martin is now the third former hockey player to show signs of CTE.

This is nothing new for athletes—football players like Mike Webster and Dave Duerson have also shown signs of the degenerative disease. The difference here is the type of player Rick Martin was and what this could mean for an entire generation of hockey players. Webster and Duerson were interior linemen in the trenches of the National Football League. They were paid to knock heads for 60 snaps per game—14 (now 16) games per season.

On the hockey side of things, Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert were known for the physical side of their trade as well. Both were known for their hands flying in a fight as much as they were known for their hands on a hockey stick. It doesn’t take a long leap of faith to understand that repeated fists to the head can lead to brain damage.

Rick Martin is different. It’s the difference that should send chills down the spines of hockey fans and players all over North America. From the Associated Press:

“The difference is Martin wasn’t a fighter. He’s the first non-enforcer who has been diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy by researchers at a Boston University brain bank.

“Martin died of a heart attack at the age of 59 in March. All three former NHL players who have donated their brains for research so far have been diagnosed with CTE, a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated brain trauma.”

The obvious part of the story that stands out is that Rick Martin was known as a skilled forward and not as an enforcer. Lisa Dillman from the LA Times shared even more specifics about the report and Martin’s health history:

“It was noted by researchers in the report that Martin’s only known concussion occurred in 1977 during a game when his head hit the ice. Martin, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered ‘immediate convulsions.’”

Martin engaged in only fourteen fights in fourteen seasons in juniors and the NHL. Let’s be honest, we have a name for a guy who gets into one fight per season: a hockey player. From a physical standpoint, Martin was a normal hockey player. In fact, during his era, you could almost consider him a finesse player—so for Martin to be diagnosed with CTE makes one wonder about an entire generation of hockey players.

It’s important to note that Martin played in a different era and without a helmet for the majority of his career. Even though he was diagnosed with a concussion, it took convulsions to make doctors take note. Back when he played, trainers would diagnose most concussions by saying the player “just got his bell rung.” The culture of the game would force players right back onto the ice and ignore any possible symptoms that could have served as warning signs.

Recently, we have player after player diagnosed with concussions. The players are missing longer periods of time as they recover and the league is taking admirable steps to insure that teams don’t rush their players back to the ice. In just as many instances, the league is protecting the players from trying to come back before they’re 100% ready for the rigors of an NHL game.

The chilling part is that this could just be the beginning for the sport. As more and more hockey players from the 1970s and 1980s donate their brain to science, we will undoubtedly hear about more players who have suffered from the degenerative brain disease. But what about today’s players? Are they adequately protected with improved helmets and equipment? Or is the game so fast today that NHL players are exposing their bodies to long-term damage that we won’t know about until they’ve retired and it’s too late?

Before today, there was hope that CTE was limited to the enforcers around the league. It was a dirty little secret that the league needed to deal with—but it was an isolated problem. Two enforcers had already shown to have CTE and Derek Boogaard’s brain is currently being examined at Boston University.  But now?  This is a problem that could affect every single player who’s stepped on NHL ice over the last four decades.

Regrettably, this isn’t a problem that will stop when the offseason ends.

Preds sign veteran d-man Matt Carle for one year

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 15:  Matthew Carle #25 of the Tampa Bay Lightning stretches in the warm-up prior to playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 15, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Lightning defeated the Leafs 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning, defenseman Matt Carle has landed in Nashville on a one-year deal worth $700,000.

The Predators announced the signing today. Carle, 31, will join what’s considered one of the best blue lines in the NHL, led by P.K. Subban and Roman Josi.

Carle played 64 games for the Lightning last season, plus 14 more in the playoffs. But his ice time fell dramatically, to the point he logged under 10 minutes in each of the Bolts’ final three postseason games.

In Nashville, Carle will bring over 700 games of NHL experience, plus two trips to the Stanley Cup Final, to a team that just traded its captain, Shea Weber, and also bought out veteran defenseman Barret Jackman.

In fact, of the eight Preds d-men under contract, only Carle is over 30. The next oldest is Subban, who’s 27.

Canucks president doesn’t rule out acquiring a player with Evander Kane’s type of history

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 01: Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up to play the Edmonton Oilers at First Niagara Center on March 1, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Trevor Linden didn’t mention Evander Kane by name, because, well, you know…

But yesterday on the radio, the Vancouver Canucks’ president of hockey operations sure didn’t close the door on acquiring a player with Kane’s type of history.

You can listen to the audio of Linden’s interview with TSN 1040 here. (The Kane discussion starts at around the 3:10 mark.)

The main takeaway is that Linden refused to say that a player with a history of getting into trouble with the police would absolutely not be welcome on the Canucks.

“I think with any situation, they’re all unique to themselves,” Linden said, before warning against the temptation to jump to conclusions prior to knowing all the facts.

“Ultimately we’d prefer not to have that situation arise, certainly with our own players,” he added. “It’s a big world out there. Obviously, the challenges are significant for young guys who make a lot of money and get themselves into spots that they make mistakes.”

The Kane speculation has been kicked into overdrive in Vancouver (where Kane was born and raised and played his junior hockey), despite the absence of any hard evidence that the Canucks are talking seriously with Buffalo about a deal.

It’s been reported that the Sabres’ ability to sign Jimmy Vesey could impact their willingness to trade Kane. Vesey can’t make his decision until Aug. 15, so perhaps we’ll have to wait until then.

But according to Canucks beat writer Jason Botchford (The Province), Kane is definitely on Vancouver’s radar.

“There’s no doubt about it, the Vancouver Canucks are going to be in on Evander Kane,” Botchford told TSN 1040 radio. “Ownership loves Kane. Jim Benning really likes Kane. Trevor? He’s maybe a little bit ambivalent, but he could be won over. They’re going to be in on Evander Kane.”

Related: Canucks made Jets ‘fair offer’ for Kane

Preds sign Jarnkrok for six years, with a cap hit of just $2 million

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 09:  Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on December 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 3-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty
10 Comments

Nashville’s momentous offseason continued today with the signing of forward Calle Jarnkrok to a six-year, $12 million contract.

That’s a cap hit of just $2 million, all the way through 2021-22.

Suffice to say, it’s not often that a player signs such a long deal, for such a modest cap hit. Jarnkrok notched career highs in goals (16) and assists (14) in 81 games last season for the Preds. He kills penalties, too.

At the very least, the 24-year-old has some financial security now. But for Nashville, as long as his production doesn’t fall off a cliff, he could end up being a great bargain.

Jarnkrok had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Preds avoid arbitration with Petter Granberg — two years, $1.225 million

Red Wings re-sign Mrazek to two-year, $8 million deal

Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (34) stops a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) in the first period of Game 3 in a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series, Sunday, April 17, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP
5 Comments

The Detroit Red Wings didn’t need Petr Mrazek‘s arbitration hearing either.

The day after the Wings avoided the process by locking up defenseman Danny DeKeyser, they agreed on a two-year deal with Mrazek, with a reported cap hit of $4 million.

Mrazek, 24, went 27-16-6 last season with a .921 save percentage. Those numbers compared favorably to Jimmy Howard‘s (14-14-5, .906); however, GM Ken Holland has argued that keeping Howard could be best for Mrazek’s development.

“It could possibly be detrimental if we put Petr in a situation where we’re just going to throw him out and play 70 games and no matter how you play, we’re going to keep putting you out,” said Holland.

Granted, it may be that Howard is simply untradeable. He’s 32 years old, hasn’t put up solid numbers the past three seasons, and has three years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of just under $5.3 million.

If Howard remains, the Wings will have just under $9.3 million in cap space allocated to their goaltenders next season, one of the highest totals in the league.

Mrazek, by the way, will still be a restricted free agent when his new contract expires in the summer of 2018.