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The Usual Suspects

NHL's injury policy a pain Add to ...

Inquiring minds wanted to know why Detroit's incomparable defenceman Nick Lidstrom missed the final two games of the Western Conference final between the Red Wings and Chicago. The media spoke only of the ubiquitous "lower-body" injury. And when Lidstrom appeared tired and mistake-prone in the Final against Pittsburgh, questions were raised again about his fitness to play. Was it an ankle? A knee? Under the NHL's Orwellian injury disclosure policy, a postal-code approximation of the hurt was all that was given to the media.

Actually, Lidstrom had a damaged testicle from being pitch-forked by Chicago's Patrick Sharp in Game 3 of the Western final. He needed all the time between the cheap shot and Game One of the final to rehabthe injury. As Paul Harvey used to say, "Now you know the rest of the story".

While it's considerate to Lidstrom that such an . . . er, intimate injury be hushed up, the cover-up damages the league's credibility in several ways. First, we now have a better understanding that Lidstrom was not tired or old or ready for retirement-- as suggested by more than one announcer or reporter. Second, the cover-up denied the opportunity to expose Sharp's disrespectful abuse of one of the league's superstars - a necessary discussion in lieu of the league's willful denial on head shots.

Many of the embedded reporters covering the NHL are complicit with the game of wink-wink/ nudge-nudge on the laughable supposition that reporting an injury might affect the outcome of a series. When Matthew Sekeres reported in these pages that Vancouver's Mats Sundin had a right knee problem, you'd have thought he passed nuclear secrets to the Iranians.

The reality is that players know who's hurt, where and how badly. Always have, always will. When Calgary's Daymond Langkow played with two broken hands in the first round, it was obvious he could not take faceoffs properly. The only people left out of the loop on injuries are the ticket buyers-- those who are paying in excess of $500 a seat for the Stanley Cup final -- and the vast TV audience. In the NHL's view, they are not worthy. Pay up and shut up.

This noblesse oblige stems from hockey's cultural subset that was refined when Ozzie and Harriet ruled the airwaves and underpaid reporters made a little extra money writing for the owners' program. It is now perpetuated by the Brian Burkes and Darryl Sutters, who derive their power (and amusement) from controlling information. With salaries and CBAs now public knowledge, injuries are the final frontier that a GM can use to dismiss reporters and fans with "if you only knew".

Somehow the NFL has had full reporting on injuries without compromising a single game. The NFL is the gold standard fans now expect. Every day the NHL cloaks itself in the shrouds of subterfuge adds to the perception of the league as out-of-date and fan unfriendly.

Scoring Chances: For best use of video in an analyst's role: 1) Ray Ferraro on TSN broke down the weak spot being exploited by Detroit on Pittsburgh's Marc-André Fleury. Ferraro showed how Fleury was cheating off the post and being beaten high short side by the Red Wing snipers. 2) Hockey Night In Canada for its story line of Sidney Crosby versus Henrik Zetterberg. With Pavel Datsyuk out, HNIC skillfully showed how Zetterberg was logging extra time and responsibility trying to control the Penguins captain.

Adieu: Farewell to CBC Radio's "The Inside Track" which folded its tent this week as a result of budget cuts at the Corp. - although how dropping a tiny 30-minute with a four-person staff is saving CBC money is beyond Usual Suspects. We worked with several of the fine reporters in our past CBC life, but still feel safe in saying that the show kept amateur sport reporting alive when no one else cared or listened.

Sincerest Flattery: The Times of London reports that the NBAand the English Premier League might be hooking up to work together on media-rights strategies, particularly in Asia. "We are unapologetic imitators," NBA commissioner David Stern told the Times. "The Premier League's ability to negotiate their [media]deals and the way they split their packages [of media rights].... is something we can learn from." And where the NBA goes, can the NHL be more than a decade behind?

Bolt For the Door: Finally, props to Off The Record snagging the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, for Monday's show ahead of his appearance tomorrow in Toronto. But the soggy spliff award goes to host Michael Landsberg for trying to get all "Irie" with Bolt during his one-on-one segment . Mi najestaa, Mike, yu nuh easy namess with no raggamuffin, hear? Check yu'self befo yu skin ya teet.


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