Connor McDavid was absolutely right. It was a “shitty time” to take him out of the Edmonton Oilers lineup last night for the 20-minute concussion protocol. The Oilers were on their first of two consecutive power plays and on the verge of nine seconds of a 5-on-3. You want the best young player in the world out on the ice in those situations. Who knows? It may have led to the Oilers losing a point in the standings that they might desperately need to make the playoffs, or even win the Pacific Division, at the end of the season.
But here’s where Connor McDavid was dead wrong. The first was when he said, “Obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling,” then said, “I grabbed my mouth and they took that as something that it wasn’t.”
My guess is that the concussion spotter in Toronto had absolutely no idea how McDavid was feeling when he grabbed his chin after falling chin-first on the ice last night. He also had no idea whether McDavid had suffered a concussion. We've certainly seen players have concussions for far seemingly less serious incidents. And that’s exactly why McDavid was pulled off the ice. So if you want to point fingers here, don’t blame the guy who was watching Edmonton’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild from the war room in Toronto. If you’re trying to lay blame, find it with the 100 or so former NHL players who are suing the NHL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to protect them from head injuries.
Go ahead, blame Dan Lacouture and Mike Peluso, former NHL tough guys whose lives have been irreparably damaged by the effects of head injuries. Blame the family of the late Derek Boogaard. All enforcers who knew the risks of their profession? Fine. Then point the finger at former 50-goal scorers Dennis Maruk, Blaine Stoughton and Gary Leeman, who are also on the docket. Those guys were probably a lot like McDavid, wanting to stay in the lineup and doing whatever it took, including lying about concussion symptoms, to do it.
The reason McDavid was pulled off the ice after he fell is because the league is responding to a lawsuit that could be very, very serious. Another reason McDavid was removed from the game was that the player, his coach and his teammates are the last, absolutely last, people who can be trusted to tell the truth, particularly in the middle of a game. Another reason is the NHL really likes what Connor McDavid brings to the game and it would rather not have him on the sidelines. Think of it this way. If McDavid had been allowed to continue playing and had been diagnosed with a concussion today, we all would have been screaming about how the concussion spotter abdicated his responsibility.
“That’s a sensitive subject right now, not just in hockey, but all sports,” Wild winger Zach Parise said in a between-periods interview. “When it comes to your head, you want to be on the cautious side. I’m sure everyone is doing it for the right reasons. You don’t want a guy like (McDavid) missing a lot of time. He’s good for the game.”
Would Parise have felt differently if it were he or one of his teammates being pulled off the ice for the same reason? Perhaps. But a lot of people are missing the point here. You can’t advocate for player safety, then rail against those who are keeping players safe by taking precautionary measures. “They’re there for our health and doing the best job possible to look out for us. We respect that,” McDavid told reporters after the game. “But at the same time, they have to respect the time of the game, what’s going on in the game.”
No, no they don’t. And not only do they not have to respect the score, the importance of the game or what’s at stake, they have the duty to not respect any of those things. Because when it comes to a players’ long-term health and his brain, none of those things matters one iota in the grand scheme of things.
Undoubtedly there will be a hue and cry when a star player is removed from an important playoff game, only to come back later after passing the concussion test. It’s coming. Expect it. A team might even lose a game, and subsequently a series, because of it. But the NHL has to stand firm here and, given the litigation it’s facing, there’s little doubt it will do just that. We keep hearing that talented players should just have to live with being targeted by opponents, which actually makes no sense. But if you’re going to operate your league on that basis, then you also have to live with not having those players at crucial times. Because the alternative is just too great a risk.