The NHL's concussion list keeps getting longer.
Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen of the Carolina Hurricanes, along with Milan Michalek of the Ottawa Senators are the latest players to go down with the injury.
Skinner leads the Hurricanes in scoring, while Pitkanen is the team's top-scoring defenceman.
The Hurricanes confirmed Wednesday that both players suffered concussions and are out indefinitely.
Michalek, who leads the league with 19 goals, suffered his concussion in last night's 3-2 overtime win at Buffalo. Michalek collided with teammate Erik Karlsson late in the second period.
“We all hope it's going to be short term,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. “He's a very important player for us. He does so many little things right. He works hard at both ends, he scores off the rush, he scores in traffic, but every team goes through this, we might be a little bit thinner than some teams in the league, but we'll try and make up for it and do our best.”
Take a whirl around the league — especially among the Eastern Conference contenders — and you'll see key cogs missing time because of concussions. Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, Philadelphia's top scorer Claude Giroux and defenceman Chris Pronger, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, Los Angeles centre Mike Richards, Boston centre Marc Savard and Rangers defenceman Marc Staal have all missed chunks of time, if not the entire season, as they deal with the lingering effects of brutal blows to the head.
“It seems like someone is going down every single night now,” retired NHL standout Jeremy Roenick said. “It's frustrating to watch. You don't like having your top guys out.”
Even worse for the league, the injuries come after a devastating summer that saw the deaths of enforcers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien.
The NHL has acted, taking steps with new policies and harsher punitive enforcement that was aimed at curtailing some of the violent hits that left the fine-tuned player complaining of dizzy spells. Quiet rooms and ImPACT tests have joined hat tricks and power plays among the league's vernacular.
But despite all the hand-wringing over the head being used for target practice by some NHL players, the blows that knocked out Crosby, Giroux and Michalek were mostly accidental.
The Senators showed a lack of finish without Michalek Wednesday night, falling 5-2 to Boston despite outshooting the Bruins 49-29.
“It's tough. He's our leading goal scorer, he's a big player on our team and plays in all situations,” Senators forward Nick Foligno said. “It's tough to replace a guy like him and he's been playing so well of late. He's the type of guy whose going to work hard and do everything he can to try and be back quick.”
Crosby's return from a 10-month layoff was short-lived after he complained of a headache following a game last week. Against Boston, Crosby collided with teammate Chris Kunitz and absorbed an elbow from Bruins forward David Krejci, both potential triggers that caused his symptoms to resurface.
“It tends to seem like it's an epidemic when we're just better at recognizing them,” said Mark Lovell, the founding director of the UPMC Sports Medicine concussion program and CEO of ImPACT, a system designed to diagnose concussions.
Gone (mostly) are the days when players are told to “shake it off” and get back on the ice after they're knocked senseless. Today's players aren't soft, they're smart and safe.
The number of players who have missed at least one game a season due to a concussion or concussion-like symptoms has been sliced by more than half since the 1999-2000 season.
In that regular season and post-season, 94 players missed time because of the injury, according to STATS LLC. By the 2009-10 season, the number dipped to 33 players. It spiked to 52 a year ago and stood at 32 this season, through Tuesday's games.
Like in any contact sport, concussions will never become obsolete. Violence is inherent and no sports league celebrates fighting like the NHL.
What the league, teams and players can do is minimize the chances with accurate diagnosis and better handling of the situation.
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