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

In a move that surprised almost no one in league circles, a group of retired NHLers are suing the league over its head injury policies and practices. And it may be the most vicious fight hockey has ever seen.

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.

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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.