October 06, 2011
NHL Season Opens Without Greatest Star
When the NHL drops the puck on their 95th season tonight, they will do so without their greatest star.
The fact that Sidney Crosby, who was clearly emerging as the game's best player last season, has not played a game in 9 months due to concussion is terrible news for the NHL fans. Worse yet, there's no foreseeable date for his return. Even when he returns, how will he play?
Could the NHL possibly have lost it's greatest player? Or at least have lost him to a degree to render him ordinary? That is exactly what happened to the last "next one." His name was Eric Lindros. Sure he was unlikeable, but the antiquated hockey community dismissed him as an bobblehead. Outside of the love vs hate relationship, could Lindros and Crosby's careers turn into mirror images of each other? So far it's looking that way. And it is the fans and the game will be the losers, again.
A lot of things have changed in the few years since Lindros' days. We are far more educated about head injuries. From Matt Cooke's once-legal blindside hits to long term brain injuries to players, to the countless lost games and lost careers and, possibly most damning of all, to the possible link between fighting and the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, we have certainly had endless evidence of the dangers of hits to the heads. Society is on the verge of no longer accepting hits to the head. Could fists to the head be far behind? Or do we have to have another Bill Masterton or Don Sanderson die before that becomes an issue again?
The hockey community is starting to change. Hockey Canada has banned all head hits at all youth levels.They are taking great lengths to educate players, coaches, officials and, just as importantly, the parents and families.
It is great to see the grassroots levels lead the charge and change the culture. But why does it have always have to be Hockey Canada or other grassroots communities that lead the change? No one has more of an impact on hockey at every single level than the National Hockey League itself. Yet they have time and time again failed to recognize this and live up to the responsibilities of caring for the game below the NHL level.
It would be nice to see the NHL use this opportunity to lead the change - to make it's game and the game at every level below it better and safer. Don't count on it, but this is the NHL's grand chance.