Slap Shot: Concussion Roster Quickly Expands Again

The Flyers' Claude Giroux (28) sustained a concussion that the team initially said was whiplash.Derek Gee/Associated PressThe Flyers’ Claude Giroux (28) sustained a concussion that the team initially said was whiplash.

In mid-November, Brendan Shanahan, the N.H.L. vice president for player safety, reported that concussions were down almost 50 percent from the same period in 2010, a “significant improvement” he attributed to increased player awareness about the kinds of hits that cause head trauma and the enforcement of new rules against such hits.

But now the N.H.L. has a concussion outbreak on its hands. By late Friday, 23 players were on the sidelines, all listed with concussions or concussion symptoms.

Just last week, concussions were announced for:

¶ Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh, his eight-game comeback from a 10-month concussion absence cut short, apparently after a collision with the elbow of Boston’s David Krejci on Dec. 5. Crosby sat out the next two games, and on Monday he said he was out indefinitely with concussion symptoms.

¶ Claude Giroux of Philadelphia, the N.H.L.’s scoring leader, was injured Dec. 10 when a teammate’s knee struck his head. The Flyers originally termed the injury whiplash, but after his condition worsened they changed it on Tuesday to concussion.

Milan Michalek of Ottawa, above, and his brother, Zbynek, of Pittsburgh, are sidelined with concussions.Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty ImagesMilan Michalek of Ottawa, above, and his brother, Zbynek, of Pittsburgh, are sidelined with concussions.

¶ Milan Michalek of Ottawa took over the N.H.L. goal-scoring lead on Tuesday but was hurt later in the game in a collision with his teammate Erik Karlsson. The Senators originally called it an “upper body injury” but specified a concussion on Wednesday.

¶ Chris Pronger, the Philadelphia captain, was shut down for the season Thursday after being sidelined since Nov. 19 with what was originally called a virus. It seemed to stem from an October eye injury that was compounded by a hit in a game Nov. 17, when Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal drove Pronger face first into the boards. “We said it was a virus, but I didn’t know what it was,” Pronger told CSN Philly this month. “I had never felt like that before, where I had headaches and nausea and all the rest of that stuff.”

¶ Jeff Skinner of Carolina, last season’s rookie of the year and the team’s leading scorer, was rocked by Edmonton’s Andy Sutton Dec. 7 and was subsequently said by the Hurricanes to be suffering from “flulike symptoms” and later an “undisclosed injury.” On Wednesday they disclosed that Skinner had a concussion.

¶ Joni Pitkanen of Carolina, the Hurricanes’ best defenseman, was injured Dec. 6. On Wednesday, the Hurricanes disclosed that Pitkanen, too, had a concussion.

¶ Brian Rolston of the Islanders left Thursday’s game against Dallas after the first period with what the Islanders described later that night as a concussion.

¶ Guillaume Latendresse of Minnesota returned from a 15-game concussion absence to score a goal on Tuesday, then went out with postconcussion symptoms at the first intermission on Wednesday. His teammate Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has a long concussion history, sustained a broken nose in the same game from slamming into the boards face-first and said the next day that he did not think he had a concussion but was “just so sore everywhere.”

Those players lengthened a current concussion list already peopled by Michalek’s brother, Zbynek, a Penguins defenseman; Kris Letang, the Penguins’ best defenseman; a third Penguins defenseman, Robert Bortuzzo; Mike Richards, Los Angeles’s biggest off-season acquisition and the perpetrator of the blindside hit that concussed David Booth two seasons ago and led to the first rule against hits to the head; Buffalo forward Nathan Gerbe; Philadelphia forward Brayden Schenn; Chicago forward Kim Johnsson; Rangers defensemen Michael Sauer and Marc Staal; Columbus defenseman Radek Martinek; St. Louis forward Andy McDonald; Washington forward Jay Beagle, who was injured in an October fight with Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham; Colorado forward Peter Mueller, whose concussion has allowed him to play three games the last two seasons; and Boston’s Marc Savard, who has been able to play just 25 games, and none this season, since taking a blindside hit from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke on March 7, 2010.

The Islanders’ Nino Niederreiter was taken off the list Friday, but other players not listed with concussions are suspected of having them, including the Isles’ Steve Staios, Colorado’s Mark Olver and Ryan Wilson, and Florida’s Marcel Goc.

The sheer number of players with concussions is disturbing enough, but what is perhaps equally disturbing is the news that at least three players passed Impact concussion evaluation tests yet were still suffering symptoms.

Crosby said his Impact test showed that he did not have a concussion, but he still felt bad enough to sit out. Pronger and Schenn also initially passed their Impact tests.

Impact is a commonly used assessment tool, but Dr. Robin Green, senior scientist at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and an expert in traumatic brain injury, said last week that such tests had “very limited sensitivity.”

She said that in a recent Quebec study, concussed subjects who recorded high Impact scores took more challenging experimental tests that showed them still to be significantly concussion-affected.

The N.H.L. is in a difficult position. Only one player on the current list sustained his concussion on a play deemed illegal enough to warrant a suspension (Montreal’s Max Pacioretty was given a three-game ban for high-sticking Letang), and only one player was concussed in a fight. Many by incidental or accidental contact, sometimes with teammates — and some were hurt on hits that did not draw suspensions, as when the Flyers’ Marc-Andre Bourdon boarded Gerbe from behind but was excused by Shanahan. That raises the question of whether the league should take a stricter stance against such hits.

The N.H.L., in conjunction with the players union, became the first sports league to install concussion evaluation protocols, in 1997, and has had a group of medical researchers tracking concussions and publishing in academic journals, including what body parts and equipment make contact in concussion incidents, how they happen, where on the ice they take place and at what times in the game they occur.

Yet the N.H.L. and the union, citing players’ privacy concerns, still do not mandate concussions to be publicly disclosed. That leads to evasive terms like “upper body injury,” “head injury,” “virus,” “flulike symptoms” and “undisclosed injury.” Many independent researchers say such terms may be hiding many more concussions.

In the meantime, the N.H.L. seems to be taking the stance that the current epidemic is an unfortunate statistical coincidence and that no policy changes are warranted.

“We don’t look at this as a day-to-day thing — we take a much broader and longer-term view of the situation,” said Bill Daly, the N.H.L. deputy commissioner. “There’s nothing that’s happened recently that will cause us to re-evaluate how we are approaching the safety of our athletes.”

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