When Brent Burns was diagnosed with a concussion two seasons ago, not too many people panicked. You see, he is a big defenseman, and that's what happens to big defensemen. They get concussions, they get better, we move on. Not to mention, the Wild did not have a long and storied history with concussions, so few knew the extent of what was to follow. (Even if it was later declared not a concussion.)
Then Pierre-Marc Bouchard left the lineup with a concussion, and Wild fans started to panic a bit, and rightly so. By then, they knew this word, concussion, was not a minor issue. Both he and Burns lost significant time to their injuries, but the Bouchard injury left an indelible mark on Wild fandom. If the Burns concussion was the educational piece, the Bouchard concussion was the final grade.
Wild fans get it now. They know that concussions are serious business. What they don't know? Every thing else.
After jump, a discussion on the concussion mess as it pertains to the Minnesota Wild.
We have discussed the concussions of Guillaume Latendresse and Marco Scandella a bit already. However, it is worthy of note that on neither hit can we, with any certainty, pin point where they happened. Which hit caused them? We will never know. If that doesn't scare the bejebus out of you, nothing should. They just don't know.
When will they return? Well, we don't know that either. The NHL has seen players miss minimal time with concussions, and there have been players who never play again. Somewhere in between are the Bouchards and the Sidney Crosby's of the world. Months missed, full seasons lost to the injury. Doctors say "progress has been made, but we aren't out of the woods," the team says "we have no timetable, and will continue to evaluate."
In the meantime, we are left wondering what happened, and could it have been prevented. Would the Messier Project helmet have prevented either concussion? Would it have helped Bouchard or Burns? Burns stopped wearing his, so apparently he and his agent don't think so. Still, without knowing exactly when the injuries occurred, it is impossible to know if the helmet would have helped. After all, if it was a hit with no contact directly to the head, the helmet would have done nothing.
The Short Term Impact
No, not the impact of the hit, but the impact on the team, and on the franchise. The loss of these two players is huge. Latendresse was playing well on the top line, creating chances, scoring goals. Scandella was, without a doubt, the best d-man on the team. The loss of these two players is indescribable for a franchise whose prospect depth is a still at least tow years out.
Take Latendresse for example. Who do you call up to replace him? Certainly, players like Casey Wellman and John McIntyre have earned the chance, but neither of them is Guillaume Latendresse. They simply don't have the size, the hands, the overall game that Latendresse does. So you call them up, you have to change the roles on the team, which changes chemistry, which changes if games are won or lost. I'm not sure there is a team who has a first line forward waiting in the AHL for an injury call up, but I am certain the Wild don't.
Then there is Scandella. After an injury to Greg Zanon, the press box ridden Justin Falk was put into the lineup and has performed beyond expectations. Then Claytpn Stoner broke his finger, and Nate Prosser was called up. Both of those players work to cover the holes they fill. But with Scandella, the Wild don't have a call up ready for that. Who would you call up? Tyler Cuma? Is Cuma ready to fill a Scandella type role? It's doubtful, but the other Aeros on the roster are all small or defensive style d-men.
No one on the Aeros roster can fill the skates of either of the guys the Wild just lost, nor should there be. That's the point. This is a top line forward and a top pairing defenseman. If those types of players are waiting in Houston, well, we have a problem.
The Long Term Impact
Heck, the long term impact could be as simple as these guys miss as much or more time as Bouchard. Imagine that scenario? Yeah, I don't want to either. However, the long term impact is much more than just missed games. This is at least the second concussion for Scandella. He is 21 years old. The impact on his brain, on his life, and on his career are complete unknowns. How many concussions is too many? One? Two? Five? When is it time to call it quits for the sake of being able to raise kids you don't even have yet?
Not to be the harbinger of doom here, but concussions scare me. Any time a doctor gathers all of the information at hand, draws on years of experience and training, looks up and says "Boy, I just don't know," that's scary. When hockey fans and owners dumping billions into this game ask how to help prevent this from happening, and the best engineers in the world say, "Boy, I don't know," that just adds to it.
We don't know what the long term impact is. We know the short term - players will be called up, holes will be plugged, fingers will be stuck into the leaky dike. The Netherlands will not flood today. However, until we figure out what exactly is going on, we can patch all the holes we want and pretend everything is OK, but it doesn't make it so.
The long term health of two players is up in the air, as is the short term health of this hockey team. The short term can be dealt with. Trades, roster moves, line up changes, gut checks. The long term health issues are much more difficult to deal with, and much more difficult to accept.
Every so often in life the only thing that will help is answers. This is one of those situations. Yet, there are none.