Ice hockey has always been a faced-paced, rough, and sometimes downright nasty game. Injuries always have been and always will be a part of it. But with what we know today about brain injuries, the NHL has been forced to step up its attention to the issue. How could it not? Back in March, the league moved to dismiss a concussion-related class-action lawsuit filed by six former NHL players; its movement was denied by a federal judge. This isn’t going away for the NHL any time soon.
In the 2013-14 season, Brendan Shanahan’s last as head of the NHL department of player safety, he handed down 15 suspensions for illegal checks to the head. This season—with Stephane Quintal as head of player safety—that number was reduced to just nine suspensions for illegal checks to the head. Of special note is that four fines were doled out for illegal checks to the head under Quintal's regime, while Shanahan handed out no fines for head shots the year prior. Is the league again becoming more lenient on the issue, or are the players simply learning to cut back on the vicious checks to the head? It’s tough to say.
Here’s a list of 10 players whose careers were either completely derailed by concussion issues, or affected enough to the point where it’s fair to wonder what may have become of them if they hadn’t received multiple head injuries:
10 Dean Chynoweth
Defenceman Dean Chynoweth spent time in the NHL
fighting playing for the New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins from 1989 to 1998. Over that time period Chynoweth sustained a staggering 13 concussions, most of which were the result of direct blows to the head from opponents’ bare fists.
9 Dennis Vaske
Not the flashiest name on the list, but it will be 20 years ago this November when Dennis Vaske received the hit that effectively ended his career. The stay-at-home defenceman played 232 of his 235 NHL games in New York Islanders silks.
8 Adam Deadmarsh
Adam Deadmarsh played 567 games in the NHL over a span of 10 seasons before he was forced to call it a career due to concussion issues. “Deader” had at least two cases of documented concussions during his career, the second of which came early in 2002-03. He would not play another game in the NHL after that one.
7 Marc Savard
It doesn’t seem like too long ago that Marc Savard’s name was perennially showing up amongst the NHL scoring leaders, but in reality the feisty center hasn’t played a game since January of 2011. He suffered his first major concussion in March of 2010 when Matt Cooke laid him out with this infamous hit that has since been credited with truly opening the dialogue on headshots in the NHL.
6 Keith Primeau
Like most players on this list, Keith Primeau suffered many concussions—four documented ones, but he says it’s likely closer to 10—before finally calling it a career at the age of 35. His last concussion was suffered just nine games into the 2005-06 season, when he was on the receiving end of a big hit from Montreal’s Alexander Perezhogin. That would be his last game, as he officially announced his retirement on Sept. 14, 2006.
5 Derek Boogaard
Easily the most tragic story on the list, late pugilist Derek Boogaard comes in at number five. In his prime, the “Boogie Man” was one of the most feared enforcers in the NHL, but the repeated bare-knuckle blows directly to the head caught up with him in a bad way.
4 Steve Moore
Just how productive of a career Steve Moore would have had if Todd Bertuzzi hadn’t sneak-attacked him on that fateful March evening in 2004 is anyone’s guess, but the notoriety of the incident lands Moore at number four on this list.
3 Paul Kariya
Paul Kariya was half of one of the most dynamic duos of the 1990s (the other half being Teemu Selanne, of course). However, unlike Selanne, Kariya’s production took a nosedive at the turn of the millennium, and concussions can almost certainly be blamed for that.
2 Pat LaFontaine
Pat LaFontaine recorded over 1,000 points in the NHL, but he had a chance to be the best American player to ever lace ‘em up before concussions forced him into retirement at the age of 33. He spent his entire career playing for each of the three teams situated in New York State, and he finished with 1.17 points per game, still tops among American-born skaters.
1 Eric Lindros
Eric Lindros is the poster boy for concussions in the NHL, so it makes sense that he ends up here at number one on our list. Billed as “The Next One” when he shirked the Quebec Nordiques organization after it selected him first overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, Lindros enjoyed a productive start to his NHL career in Philadelphia, registering 600 points in his first 431 games with the Flyers.
It was during the 1998-99 season when Lindros suffered his first concussion after taking a hit from Pittsburgh’s Darius Kasparaitis, sidelining him for 18 games. Lindros suffered a second concussion later that season, and of course we all remember this Scott Stevens hit during the 1999-00 postseason that is recognized as the final nail in the coffin containing Lindros’ career. He would go on top play parts of five more seasons, but his production fell off a cliff and he decided to hang them up after the 2006-07 season at the age of 34. It’s fair to wonder if he would have had a longer career had his injuries been dealt with in the same way Sidney Crosby’s were a few years ago, but we’ll never know for certain.
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