Group of retired NHLers sue league over concussions; is a day of reckoning on the horizon?

Adam Proteau
Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens

In a move that surprised almost no one who has followed the issue of concussions in sport, a group of retired NHLers have filed a lawsuit over the league’s head injury policies and practices. And it may be the most vicious fight the game has ever seen.

The group of 10 players – which includes former Maple Leafs Rick Vaive and Gary Leeman, as well as Brad Aitken, Darren Banks, Curt Bennett, Richie Dunn, Warren Holmes, Bob Manno, Blair Stewart and Morris Titanic – allege in their lawsuit the NHL knew or should’ve known players who suffer repeated head injuries are a greater risk for subsequent disabilities and injuries. Furthermore, the suit claims the league didn’t do anything to protect players until 2010, when a rule was instituted penalizing a head shot.

There is no punitive monetary value assigned to the lawsuit as of yet, but these are the initial stages of the proceedings. The suit was filed in a Washington, D.C. federal court on behalf of injured players who retired on or before February 14 of this year. However, the process allows for more players to potentially join the 10 players.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a $765-million settlement between the National Football League and thousands of ex-players who developed dementia and/or other concussion-related health issues. The NFL avoided a trial, but it is far too soon to presume what direction the retired NHL players will take.

One thing is certain: everyone from NHL GMs and team owners to player agents have heard rumblings that this was a likelihood and the league has had a strategy to deal with this day for some time. But the NHL is famous for wanting to control the environment in which it does business – and this time, it may wind up in a courtroom, where control is out of its hands.

And if the day ever comes when a court verdict hits the NHL where it lives – in the net profits department – the league may have no choice but to adapt its rulebook and culture.