Gruesome cuts like the one that ended Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson’s season are not new to hockey or any sport played on skates.
But when a Norris Trophy winner goes down after his Achilles tendon is nearly severed in half, it makes players around the NHL wonder if they should start wearing cut-proof socks and other equipment that may prevent such scary injuries.
The Karlsson injury was the talk of the league Thursday after Karlsson’s left Achilles tendon was cut by a skate blade during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray said 70 per cent of Karlsson’s tendon was cut as a result of the incident. Karlsson underwent surgery Thursday and recovery is expected to be at least three-to-four months, thus ending Karlsson’s season.
Many players are already wearing cut-proof kevlar socks but a lot have either never tried them or don’t like them.
“It’s a tough call,” said Karlsson’s defence partner Marc Methot. “Most of us have never even tried them on before.
“It certainly raises awareness now. I’m going to try them out.”
Murray lamented some players are stubborn about their equipment even if it may prevent an injury.
“We have skate guards that defencemen should be wearing and I look around and not many defencemen are wearing them,” he said. “Players want to be able to play at a high speed and they think that some of this stuff is cumbersome so they take the risk of not wearing it.”
Several high-profile NHL players have missed significant time due to skate cuts.
Defencemen Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks and Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens both have had their legs sliced open by razor-sharp skates in recent seasons.
Anaheim Ducks scoring star Teemu Selanne has had two major cuts in his career and now wears kevlar socks and wrist guards.
Both Buffalo Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk in 1989 and Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik in 2008 nearly died when arteries in their throats were slashed by errant skates.
Karlsson was retrieving the puck in a corner when Matt Cooke’s skate sliced into the back of his left leg just above the boot of his skate. Karlsson was not wearing cut-proof socks.
“I had trouble watching it to be honest with you,” Calgary Flames forward Michael Cammalleri said of Karlsson’s injury. “I got cut above the knee in the first game of last season and ever since, I’ve been completely paranoid.
“I wear cut-proof socks and wrists guards and everything now because of it.”
NHL vice-president Kris King, whose duties include player safety, said the league has not looked at making cut-proof socks mandatory. But it has been encouraging teams to promote them to their players.
He said when the league first looked into kevlar equipment in 2010, there was only one company making it. Since then, the NHL has helped other firms and individuals get into the market with new products.
Bauer, for instance, now makes a 60 per cent kevlar sock for hockey. King said there is even a company in California that custom builds cut-proof materials for players depending on what areas of the body they want protected. Sometimes it is sewn into their underclothes to protect parts of the legs or body that may otherwise be vulnerable.
King said some teams have eight-to-10 players wearing cut-proof equipment, but others have fewer.
“You get accustomed to what you like,” said King. “We’re all stubborn and don’t want change.
“But now when a new player comes in, an equipment manager can say ‘This is what you’re wearing.’ You have to get them to buy in.”
King said it takes incidents like Karlsson’s injury to get players thinking about safety.
“If Karlsson had these socks on, he wouldn’t have been hurt,” King said. “But they’re not mandatory yet. It’s player preference.”
NHL players have resisted calls to make visors mandatory despite some serious eye and facial injuries. That raises doubt that cut-proof socks can be required.
“We haven’t mandated visors yet so I highly doubt that mandated kevlar socks will be on the agenda next week,” said Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey, who seemed to doubt the socks would fully protect a player in every instance. “I wear them.
“I’ve been lucky enough not to be caught with a skate in that region since I’ve had them on.”
Flames defenceman Cory Sarich was skeptical. He suspects Cooke’s skate caught Karlsson at such an unusual angle that perhaps no equipment could have prevented the injury.
“You see guys wearing shot-blockers, or extra padding on their backs for forwards, just to prevent injuries, but there are some things that are just, you know, unavoidable,” he said. “It’s a dangerous sport in that regard. You hope that stuff doesn’t happen.”
In Detroit, where Darren Helm and Mike Modano suffered serious cuts to their arms in recent years, several players told mlive.com they would now try cut-proof equipment.
But defenceman Jonathan Ericsson said he gave up the socks because they caused sores on his feet.
Cammalleri said the socks are different, but you get used to them.
“We’re finicky guys, hockey players,” he said. “Performance is important to us.
“But I’ve got to the point now where I feel very comfortable and don’t feel it hinders me at all.”
And Cammalleri hopes to league will look into the matter.
“As a competitor, you want to play against guys when they’re healthy and at their best and you want to beat them that way,” he said. “You hate to see injuries.
“It’s kind of the worst part of our business.”
Short-track speed skating is another sport where skate cuts are common.
Competitors wear full, cut-proof suits. But Canadian national team member Francois Hamelin was sidelined this season after requiring several stitches to close a foot cut caused by one of his own skates in a crash at a World Cup meet in Japan in December.
“Hockey skates and speed skating blades are really sharp,” said Hamelin. “We have longer blades so it can go deeper, but (Karlsson’s) cut was pretty bad.
“My cut was less bad. It was just in a bad place, on my foot.”
Hamelin was wearing cut-proof socks but the blade went through a part of the boot that wasn’t protected.
With files from Donna Spencer in Calgary, Scott Edmonds in Winnipeg and Lisa Wallace in Ottawa.