No doubt it's good for everybody around the NHL that Sidney Crosby has been cleared to resume light skating.
There is still no timetable on when the Penguins captain will return to the lineup, and Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero cautions that Crosby is still not close to being game ready. But since the topic of Crosby's long absence from a concussion was front and center for players, the board of governors and league officials throughout the All-Star weekend, one supposes that any positive news about him had to be welcome.
|'It's a fast game and it's physical, so things are going to happen,' Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien says. (Getty Images)|
More like its meal ticket. But Crosby has been gone since Jan. 5, either the result of an un-penalized blind side hit by Washington's David Steckel during the heavily-watched Winter Classic or a hit a few days later when Crosby was ridden hard into the boards by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
No one knows for sure, and neither of the collisions on Crosby were deemed illegal under the rule book. But Crosby's extended injury has sharpened everyone's focus when it comes to concussions. The problem is that trying to prevent more players from suffering them while maintaining the game's physical nature is naturally at odds.
"It's easy to say the league needs to do X, Y and Z on concussions, but it's not that simple," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It could be a variety of things, the speed of the game, mismatches, these are all things we're looking at and changing a rule which doesn't address what's actually causing the concussions may not be the right thing to do."
The league did react in the aftermath of Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke jeopardizing the career Boston Bruins center Marc Savard last spring with an unpenalized blind side hit to the head. Rule 48 outlaws those types of hits and Bettman said the preliminary results are that concussions resulting from them have decreased.
Overall though the number of concussions has risen this season, approaching triple digits with about a third of the season to play. Bettman said those are more from accidental or inadvertent plays.
Like the one Steckel claimed he made on Crosby.
Still it is debatable whether the general managers will want to put more teeth into Rule 48, say to the point of banning all head shots, when they meet in March. And that's not because the evidence isn't necessarily conclusive or they don't realize it could happen to one of their players, but because doing so would fly against hockey's culture.
The NHL's decision not to further discipline Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal after his match penalty Wednesday night bears that out. Staal faced an automatic one-game suspension for sucker punching Brandon Prust of the Rangers, but had that rescinded after review.
Prust was knocked down but apparently not hurt by the blow, although he could have been because it was unexpected, and New York scored a key goal during the ensuing power play. So later even Rangers coach John Tortorella was willing to give Staal a pass.
"I think you could tell when it happened, at least when I watched it, that I think he knew that he made a mistake there," Tortorella said.
Heat of the moment thing. Just a hockey play in other words. Like most shots to the heads, right?
"It's a fast game and it's physical so things are going to happen," Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Dustin Byfuglien said. "But if you want to get rid of head shots, you have to get the speed out of the game, and I don't think that's what anybody wants."
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal agreed.
"If anytime you make contact with a guy's head you get a penalty, it will probably take hitting out of the game and that's not right," said Staal. "I think it's up to the players to avoid getting into situations where they could get hurt."
Chicago forward Patrick Sharp said it has usually been his own fault when he's been hit in the head, mainly because he hadn't been looking. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said it is up to players to be more aware of their surroundings because things happen so fast on the ice.
But some players like Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny said it wouldn't be a bad idea to toughen Rule 48, while both Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings believed an outright ban on headshots is probably inevitable.
"I would say the league is moving in the right direction with the blind-sides and the head hits," Lidstrom said. "But it's a fine line."
And that's where the problems lies for most players. None want to see anyone else getting hurt, but they are all concerned about the game losing its edge.
"I don't know how you could really do it," said Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green. "Obviously guys shouldn't be going out of their way to hurt people, but things that sometime look intentional aren't always.
"You don't want to take away the aggression and passion of the players because that's the way guys have to play the game and what people want to see."