Head games: NHL sends concussion expert to Sochi

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The National Hockey League will have a concussion specialist — Dr. Jeff Kutcher — in Sochi for the duration of hockey competition at the Winter Olympics, the league and player’s association have announced.

”Dr. Kutcher is well regarded in his field and has significant experience working with NHL players,” NHLPA head Donald Fehr said, per the Associated Press. “We are pleased he will be in Sochi and is willing to assist with our players while at the games.”

Here’s more, from AP:

Kutcher will evaluate the neurological health of about 150 NHL players from all 12 countries in the Olympics. Dr. Ruben Echemendia, a neuropsychologist and chair of the NHL’s concussion program, will also be at the Olympics – a first for the league, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

The NHL isn’t fond of freezing its league for two-plus weeks and putting their stars at risk for injuries at the Olympics, but the league and the NHL Players’ Association both have a degree of comfort knowing that Kutcher will be there.

Kutcher, a Michigan-based neurologist, will work in conjunction with both the hockey and skiing events. He has a lengthy history dealing with athletes and concussions — two years ago, he was named the director of the NBA’s concussion program and serves as both an associate profession of neurology at the University of Michigan, as well as a physician for the Wolverines’ athletic teams.

He’s also the director of Michigan’s NeuroSport Program.

In speaking with the AP, Kutcher acknowledged he could be facing some pressure-packed scenarios when it came to clearing athletes to compete in events — especially during medal competitions — but insisted the athletes’ well-being would come first.

”I do feel a little bit of pressure,” he said. ”I understand the gravity of the situation and needing to first and foremost do my job as a neurologist regardless of setting or scenario. It doesn’t matter if it’s a training run or a gold-medal run or any scenario at all.

“It is the health of the athletes that I’m there for.”

Add Lecavalier to list of expensive Flyers healthy scratches

Vincent Lecavalier
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Are the Philadelphia Flyers aiming for some sort of record when it comes to expensive (potential) healthy scratches?

While lineups are obviously subject to change, notes that Vincent Lecavalier appears to be among a rather rich group of Flyers who are expected to sit during their season-opener.

Also likely to be in street clothes: Sam Gagner and Luke Schenn.

That’s $11.3 million in cap space rotting on the bench, and that’s only counting what the Flyers are paying Gagner.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Lecavalier said. “I’ll practice hard and be ready when they call me up.”

The quotes from Lecavalier, Gagner and Schenn only get sadder from there, which reminds you that these guys are more than just numbers – whether those numbers be disappointing stats or bloated salaries.

Flyers fans with the urge to reach for an Alka-Setzler can at least take some comfort in knowing that the team will see $6.8 million in savings after this season, as both Gagner and Schenn are on expiring deals.

It could be a long season, though, and this Lecavalier headache may only become more painful.

Video: NHL drops hammer, suspends Torres for 41 games


One of the NHL’s most notorious hitters has been tagged by the league.

On Monday, the Department of Player Safety announced that San Jose forward Raffi Torres has been suspended 41 games — half of the regular season — for an illegal check to the head of Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg.

The length of Torres’ suspension is a combination of the Silfverberg hit and Torres’ history of delivering hits to the heads of opposing players, including Jordan Eberle, Jarret Stoll, Nate Prosser and Marian Hossa.

“Torres has repeatedly violated league playing rules,” the Department of Player Safety explained. “And has been sanctioned multiple times for similar infractions.”

The league also noted that Torres has been warned, fined, or suspended on nine occasions over the course of his career, “the majority of which have involved a hit to an opponent’s head.”

“Same player every year,” Ducks forward Ryan Kesler said following the hit on Silfverberg. “I played with the guy [in Vancouver]. He needs to learn how to hit. That has no part in our game anymore.”

As for what lies ahead, things could get interesting upon potential appeal:

Torres successfully appealed a suspension under the previous CBA, getting his punishment for the Hossa hit reduced from 25 to 21 games.

Under terms of the new CBA, Torres isn’t categorized as a repeat offender because his last suspension came in May of 2013 — more than two years ago.

Of course, part of the reason Torres hasn’t run afoul of the league in two years is because he’s barely played.

Knee injuries limited Torres to just 12 games in ’13-14, and he sat out last season entirely.