Cynicism, Concussions and the Canucks

Thomas Drance
April 11 2012 10:09AM


Many, Darryl Sutter included, think the Canucks may be playing mind-games with Daniel Sedin's head-injury.
But does that square with the caution the team has shown in dealing with concussions this season?

It's the question on the lips of everyone in Canucks Nation this morning, 'Will Daniel Sedin return to the line-up tonight?" Whether Daniel Sedin dresses tonight, or not, isn't just an elephant in the room, it's a mastodon. So it's not a surprise that when Alain Vigneault refused to comment at length on the status of his team's leading-scorer, Vancouver media members were unimpressed (none more so than the columnist who has most transparently campaigned for the head-coaches replacement).

Daniel's relative presence at practice yesterday, he didn't skate with the team, but rather, joined the "Black Aces" in a post-practice skate, set off a wave of speculation: was it a setback? Gamesmanship?

This reaction seems odd doesn't it? Why is it that our first reaction as fans, observers or writers, is to instantly begin debating whether or not the team's handling of Daniel is another example of the Canucks playing politics with head injuries?

Read past the jump!

In part it's because, the Canucks were accused of being outright propagandists when they dealt cautiously with Sami Salo's concussion in January. In part it's because Keith Ballard left the lineup under suspicious circumstances exactly ten games before the trade deadline, i.e. just in the nick of time to allow the Canucks to place him on long-term inured reserve, which, gave the team the cap-space required to add Samme Pahlsson to the roster.

There's no doubt that Ballard's concussion especially was timely, but in retrospect it looks like the team wasn't really fudging the truth. Ballard has said that he was sleeping 18 hours a day while recovering with his injury, and being extremely cautious in handling any injury to Sami "was once bitten by a poisonous snake" Salo seems like a reasonable course of action.

With the news coming out of Sweden today - Daniel's father was quoted in Allehanda as saying Daniel wouldn't dress tonight - it strikes me that we should start trusting the occams razor approach when speculating about how this team handles concussed players. Either the club has continually and brazenly "played politics" with concussions to achieve off-ice ends: from assuring that Brad Marchand gets a maximum suspension, to opening up some cap-space, to sowing doubt in the mind their first round opponent. Or, alternatively the Canucks are just being very cautious in their handling these types of injures.

Here's what Mike Gillis, who mentioned that he'd read "every piece of literature I can about head injuries and concussions," told Don Taylor and the Moj on the Team 1040 yesterday (transcription my own):

"Daniel's doing fine, he did a full practice and a full off-ice work out yesterday. We're following protocol that's been established by experts in the concussion field and the National Hockey League. Today was a day when it was a little bit easier we're seeing how he feels after his work out today, and into tonight and tomorrow morning. So, nothing has really changed, he's progressing, but still you have to be very, very careful and not push too hard, and make sure that he's completely ready to accept the challenges that are coming." 

Sounds to me like Daniel isn't preparing for game one at all, but rather, is going through a rigorous process to determine his level of fitness going forward. While the team will require all hands on deck to get past a very difficult first round opponent, that the Canucks are monitoring this situation and treating it with due seriousness is very good news.

There's a few things we know about Mike Gillis that don't square well with the "Canucks constantly play politics with concussions" line of thinking. The first is that, as a player his career was beset by injury issues, and I recall reading that he eventually came to feel that NHL clubs mishandled his healing process to the detriment of his long-term personal health and career. It has been said that preventing teams from abusing their power and exploiting players was one of the major reasons Gillis ultimately became a player agent.

Secondly, Gillis clearly prides himself on being a modern thinker. Beyond his probable use of advanced stats in making personnel decisions (he's even spoken on the record about the applications of Moneyball in hockey), Gillis has been exploring and attempting to usefully apply military-style readiness techniques to the professional sports team he manages throughout his tenure.

Does that read like a description of a guy who would play politics with head injuries, or risk allowing a top-player, who wasn't ready to return early? I don't think so. 

At this point, we can confidently say that Daniel won't return to the lineup tonight and he shouldn't frankly, if it's not safe for him to return yet. Concussions are tricky things, and you never know when an iffy hit might cause symptoms to reoccur. I've personally suspected that the Canucks were playing fast and loose with concussion protocol this season, but looking back at the common-threads between how Salo's, Ballard's and now Sedin's head-injuries were handled by the team, it seems like the team's admirable caution may have been cynically misinterpreted.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 DCR
April 11 2012, 10:34AM
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Fascinating stuff - particularly as an example of how far the narrative has spread regarding the Canucks as a team. Everyone's first thought seemed to be that they were pulling a fast one, rather than being careful with their people.

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#2 Steven Ray Orr
April 11 2012, 03:14PM
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Drance, you are far too calm for Game Day. At this point, I assume that Daniel actually died later that night and Henrik has been pretending to be him for all public appearances until the Sedin Clone Bank can transfer all of Daniel`s memories into a fresh body.

But: you`re right. The Canucks would like to have Daniel back. Not temporarily. Not at 90%. Not if he is playing hurt. And they are willing to wait in order for that to happen.

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