If there’s a guy who has played in the NHL that would know a thing about what it’s like to deal with concussions, it’s Eric Lindros. The former Flyers star made his career as a punishing power forward and scorer in the NHL during his 14 seasons in the league. He also became famous for getting blown up with crushing body checks and suffering numerous concussions.
When Lindros retired from the league after the 2006-2007 season, it was apparent that repeated concussions left a mark on his career that saw him go from a dominating force in the NHL and winning the NHL MVP award in 1995 to a shell of himself and often injured when his career wrapped up with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Dallas Stars.
Today, Lindros spoke out about the NHL’s hot button topic in concussions and he had a few things to say about how the changes made to make the game more free-flowing have helped make it more dangerous.
Steve Green of Sun Media in Canada has the story.
“They did away with the red line (for the two-line offside pass), so the rate of speed through the neutral zone is much higher. Defencemen can’t help their partners by slowing opponents down between the blue line and the top of the circle and goalies can’t play the puck behind the goal line outside that (trapezoid) area.
“Would Raffi Torres have been coming through the neutral zone as fast as he was otherwise?” he added of the Vancouver forward’s hit on Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks during their fist-round playoff series, which earned Torres an interference penalty, but no suspension. “Everyone’s being so reactive right now, but the problem’s actually been there for a long time. I think there are some strides being made, though.”
Fans and media alike have been critical of changes like the goalie’s trapezoid area, but the speed and skill of the game has made the game more entertaining and enjoyable for fans. Cutting down on obstruction through the neutral zone coupled with penalties being called more often for hooking and holding infractions have helped scoring pick up and the flow of the game to maximize.
As for the problems that some players have with keeping the elbows down and with running players from behind that also lead to head injuries, Lindros’ commentary was stiff for those guilty of that as well. A certain Pittsburgh Penguins forward drew most of Lindros’ ire while he feels badly for NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell.
“There are a handful of players in the league who fall into that category in a large way and Matt Cooke is one of them,” Lindros said. “And you know what the unfortunate part is? When the time comes for him to be a free agent, some general manager will sign him and pay him more than someone who kills penalties or plays on the power play because of his — I can’t really find another word for it — trashy style of play.
“And there’s a large political scene in these situations. Colin Campbell (NHL vice-president and director of hockey operations, who dishes out the suspensions) is in a tough position, but there are a lot of back-door things done. Certain teams get taken care of differently than others, no question.”
It’s a good thing Lindros already wasn’t well liked in Pittsburgh to begin with.
Lindros’ words are damning as his role as a former player who has suffered immensely thanks to blows to the head, most of which occurred before the 2004-2005 lockout that saw the league change the rules to open up the game. Concussions are the talk of the league for a reason, but teams are also more careful with how they treat players and they’ve gotten better at diagnosing these injuries.
With guys like Lindros and Keith Primeau doing their part to speak up on this to put pressure on the league to make changes to protect the players it helps push the case for it. It’s up to the NHLPA and the Board of Governors to things to make the game safer but maintain the level of entertainment and excitement. It’s a delicate balance and it creates difficult problems but it’s something they’ve got to do before more players like Lindros and Primeau and others see their careers cut short.