The Maple Leafs’ rivals in Boston had to shelve star center Marc Savard for the rest of the season on Monday due to ongoing concussion symptoms. But that’s no reason for Leafs Nation to bust out the party favors. To the contrary: every hockey fan should be scared stickless to know their favorite player could be next to have his career jeopardized by senseless, preventable over-aggression.
Unfortunately, I write a story like this every NHL season – and while the names change, the sadness and anger I feel grows with every new case like Savard’s. If it isn’t the concussion-based early-retirement of superstars such as Pat LaFontaine or Eric Lindros that’s made headlines over the past decade or so, it’s the same fate befalling second-level stars such as Adam Deadmarsh or Keith Primeau.
This year, the specter of concussions has begun haunting Penguins superstar and NHL poster boy Sidney Crosby, sidelining him for the past 13 games and potentially until March. It’s as if The Hockey Gods have had enough of the hints they’ve provided in the past – and now, via the injury to the sport’s greatest player, they’re making the message as clear as can be.
That message: we’re going to decide, once and for all, what fans pay both money and attention to see – the game itself, or the NHLers who play it.
If NHL team owners believe they can throw a jersey at any halfway decent player and have fans fork over dozens of 10-and-20-dollar bills to see them play, they need only maintain their current course; soon enough, players’ reckless style of play will leave no Crosbys or Alex Ovechkins to market and appreciate.
If the owners value the players, nothing but a total ban on head shots will suffice.
This league cannot afford to lose important players in any market. Monday it was Savard; tomorrow it could be Luke Schenn. I’d bet Leafs fans wouldn’t appreciate seeing part of the team’s future snuffed out and being told, “just a part of the game, folks.”
Don’t be fooled. It isn’t – or at least, it doesn’t have to be.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.