“Upper Body” Headaches

Guess what? A member of the Toronto Maple Leafs is out with an undefined upper body injury with no real timeline. Here we go again..

Yesterday, Joffrey Lupul left the game following a hit to the head from former Leaf Jay Rosehill, immediately after being hit by Adam Hall. Lupul was so shaken, that he missed the bench on his first attempt to get on it, and once on it, could barely walk.

But guess what!? It isn’t a big deal and they’re not calling it a concussion, says Randy Carlyle.

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Randy Carlyle says Lupul feels fine now. Said he’s 50/50 to practice tomorrow. Will have to see how he responds. (Jonas Siegel)

‘No, that’s a bad word. We don’t use that word until we’re 100% sure.’ (Mark Masters)

Of course, you shouldn’t actually take this word as the gospel, given the Leafs recent history with managing concussions.

Here’s just a few of the mishaps in the Leafs organization involving concussions in the last couple of years:

James Reimer was the victim of Brian Gionta crashing the net in October 2011. The Leafs kept him in net for the rest of the first period, and Ron Wilson said it wasn’t a concussion, and he could have played out the rest of the game.

“He got an elbow to the head and felt like I guess you could call it whiplash-type symptoms,” said Ron Wilson, following the victory. “He could’ve finished the game, but this early in the season we didn’t want to risk it.” (Jonas Siegel)

Reimer went on to miss 19 games before being cleared to play, and when he did, it was his worst performance of his career to date. Now actually healthy, his play this season has been reminiscent of what we had seen beforehand.

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As much as we poke fun at the fact that Reimer’s mother was questioned about the injury, there was still this bit to take home from the infamous article:

“That’s the frustrating part for us — not knowing what it is, and why they’re not calling it a concussion when they say ‘concussion-like symptoms,’” Marlene Reimer said. “Like, how is that not a concussion? … The initial test showed him to be clear of a concussion. But as it goes on, it’s kind of mystifying. He’s okay some days. And some days he’s definitely not okay.” (Dave Feschuk)

But he’s cool now. Great hockey, and like his agent said, he’s been symptom free since April 2012! Wait, didn’t Reimer play twenty eight games between his injury and April? That’s… interesting.

Colby Armstrong suffered a concussion of his own not long later, in a December 2011 game against the Vacouver Canucks. Armstrong felt obligated to hide his concussion, not admitting it until after the following game against LA, that he said he was incapable of playing, but with the implication that it was due to a prior foot injury.

“He didn’t tell the trainer he had his bell rung [in the Canucks game]” Wilson said. “He kept it from us. Now he’ll be out for however long it takes [to recover]” (Dave Shoalts)

Mikhail Grabovski had his incident earlier in the calendar year, being rocked by Zdeno Chara twice in a short period of time. What happened afterwards? Despite clearly being dazed and confused, they didn’t pull him out of the game. They didn’t send him to the quiet room.. he was put back on the ice and continued the game. From Brian Burke:

“He would not have been allowed to return to play had he exhibited any symptoms of concussion… Our trainer is supposed to examine a player and make a determination. If he has concussion symptoms, at all, he’s done for the night.”

“He had no symptoms after the hit, none post-game, none this morning. This is a player with no symptoms.” (James Mirtle)

To the excitement of Leafs fans, Grabovski not only continued his game, but scored one of the nicest goals of his career. But, sure enough…

"Well, I think I had a mild concussion, he said. "But I recovered pretty quickly. And now I am feeling absolutely fine." (Dmitry Chesnokov)

Yet again, another case of "It’s not a concussion" turning into just that.

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John Michael Liles had his concerning collision just before Christmas 2011, after being hit by Paul Gaustad. He too returned to his game. What was it defined as? You guessed it Concussion-Like symptoms!

The Maple Leafs placed defenceman John-Michael Liles on injured reserve Tuesday with “concussion-like symptons,” said coach Ron Wilson.

“We’re shutting him down for a few days,” said Wilson. “He was better today, but not ready to go.”

“We just wanted to make sure you don’t over-diagnose somebody,” said Wilson. “You have to give it a couple of days. Right now it’s best if he just sits out and stays away from the rink a couple of days.”. (Kevin McGran)

The Leafs, certain that this wasn’t a big deal, signed him to a 4 year contract extension on January 25th. At that point, he was still a week from playing his first game back, and nearly a month away from getting his first point since the injury. He was arguably the best Leafs’ best offensive defenceman beforehand, yet has just 15 points since the injury. Many consider him to be an amnesty buyout candidate in the 2013/14 offseason if he doesn’t improve or if Toronto can’t move him.

But it was just a few days of concussion-like symptoms. Clearly. Like Liles said just a few days ago..

"There [were] still times in the summer where it was like ‘Man, I still just don’t feel like myself. I’m still working but it doesn’t feel like me on the ice yet’," he recalled.(Jonas Siegel)

..moving on.

For all of those people complaining about Colton Orr‘s ice time now, there are quite a few who don’t realize the severity of his scary moment. Unlike everybody else here, his wasn’t the result of a hit, rather a fight with George Parros on January 20th, 2011. As expected, another downplay:

Enforcer Colton Orr did not practise with the Maple Leafs this afternoon but coach Ron Wilson said that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be in the lineup tomorrow night when the Washington Capitals visit the Air Canada Centre.

Orr fell face first to the ice at the conclusion of a fight with Anaheim’s George Parros Thursday and left the ice a bit groggy during Toronto’s 5-2 victory over the Ducks.

“He lost his balance and he hit his head on the ice. So we’re just being cautious. He’s getting some consultation with the doctors to make sure everything all right,” said Wilson. (Paul Hunter)

Orr was put on the IR the next day. A week later:

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"He’s going through some further tests and that’s as far as I’ll go on that," said Ron Wilson. (Jonas Siegel)

Orr’s symptoms finally started to fade away two months later, and he finally got the green light to play six months after that, said in his first time actually speaking to the media since the incident.

“I got hit and I hit the ice. I experienced concussion symptoms. I needed time to rest and heal,” Orr said.

“I was a rare case, a lot of my stuff showed up on MRI, cognitive tests, where I didn’t show the results like they should be.”

Initial reports suggested Orr might be ready to play again with about two weeks remaining in the season. But he was shut down for the 2010-11 campaign and his health status was left somewhat of a mystery until Friday’s announcement. (Mark Zwolinski)

Orr played five games in the next season before being sent down to the Toronto Marlies, a fate that wasn’t revisited this year due to Randy Carlyle’s love of fisticuffs (a topic for another day).

Oh, hey, how about those Toronto Marlies? They must not have this problem, right? RIGHT?

Lets start with Jeff Finger. You all remember him, right? After failing to meet the expectations bestowed on him after Cliff Fletcher’s most curious looking UFA signing, he got sent down, finished his contract up with the Marlies, and now nobody wants to sign him, right?

In reality, Finger was forced out by, you guessed it, a concussion suffered in January 2012. The injury was left undisclosed for months until it was confirmed as a concussion in March. It wasn’t an interesting enough story to most people, so you won’t find much mention. Finger’s career is now likely over as a result.

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Nazem Kadri is playing at an incredible level for the Maple Leafs this year, being arguably their best offensive forward against everybody’s initial expectations. But even his path to this wasn’t perfect. On December 26th, he took a blindside hit to the head from Zach Stortini. He was slow to get up and looked out of it, but guess what?

He was back on the ice almost immediately for his next shift. And by the end of the 5 minute penalty, Kadri picked up an assist. Followed by heading to the dressing room with headaches and missing the rest of the game. Followed by the next three games, not returning until January 5th. Eakins’ statement afterwards?

"He was having headaches. So we immediately shut him down, and we have no other update right now. But yeah, they started to come on as he was walking in.

We’ll re-evaluate him today or tomorrow to see where he’s at." (Self)

Whether or not Kadri stated that he felt okay to trainers after that hit, the fact of the matter is, there was no attempt to pull him out and evaluate. He didn’t leave the bench and return – he went right back at it, essentially continuing based on a "yeah, I’m cool".

As much as this is the player’s fault as well, much like Armstrong above, it’s obvious that players who are attempting to prove themselves at a developmental level will take risks like that, due to the fear of losing progress up the depth charts. Even with Kadri tapping out a few minutes after the hit, you know he would’ve avoided doing so if the severity wasn’t completely handicapping.

Jake Gardiner may be a good example of this kind of situation. His hit came on December 8th. His hit came from Kevin Porter in the second period, scored a goal on the ensuing powerplay five seconds later, and then once the seconds ticked away on the middle frame, was gone for over a month before heading to the Maple Leafs. The statement that day?

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"He played a hell of a game, didn’t he? Jake got hit to the head, you know, it wasn’t a real concussion state or anything like that he just was not feeling quite right and with all of our players, we err on the side of caution. We’ll re-evaluate him later tonight and tomorrow.

Yeah, [his symptoms] kind of came on later in the [second] period, so, uh, listen, he had a great game, provided some big offence for us and goals and real good times." (Cam Charron)

Several days later..

“He’s got a bunch of issues in his neck and some headaches, so yes it could be symptomatic to a concussion or could be symptomatic to neck pain,” Eakins said at practice. (Canadian Press)

Brian Burke would go on to call it "whiplash". And eventually..

And while he did, scoring 17 points in 22 games, a concussion suffered after taking a hit last month has likely stalled his start to the NHL season.

“Those types of injuries, their status is sometimes fast sometimes slow,” said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins, who added that once healthy Gardiner would need 10 to 14 days to get back into game shape. (Michael Traikos)

The Leafs eventually sent him back down after realizing he wasn’t up to NHL speed. He then went on to play several weeks of poor (by his standards) hockey, where his offensive game and confidence in picking up and dispersing the puck appeared to be completely gone. While entirely speculation, it’s not crazy to think that, just like other players on the roster, he described himself as feeling fine ahead of reality, and the team ran with it.

Last but not least, Paul Ranger suffered a concussion of his own on January 13th. There was no initial update, thanks a lack of non-team Toronto media on the road with the team. But thankfully, the report nine days later was more direct than the others:

“(Ranger) still has concussion symptoms,” said Eakins. “He’s improved greatly, but you get the same thing every time, ‘I just don’t feel right.’ So until he feels right were not going to put him out there.”

While the Whitby, Ont. native hasn’t skated in nine days, he has returned to off-ice workouts, which is good news to Eakins.

“He’s working out, which is a great sign,” said Eakins. “It’s when they’re doing nothing that could really worry me.” (Kyle Cicerella)

Granted, who knows if this would have also been downplayed if the game was at home and it was asked early. By the way, Ranger, much like the others, finished his first period before leaving the lineup until Feburary 27th.

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So What’s Wrong Here?

With all of that recent history considered, the following things are apparent.

  • The players are are in a state of mind where they feel that they should play through concern. Many of these guys at least pushed through the period before staying in the dressing room. Many clearly came back several steps behind 100%. Really, Grabovski was the only one who didn’t miss any sort of beat.
  • If that’s the case, why is the organization not at full precaution? If a guy gets hit in the head and looks in any way shaky after getting up, he should be immediately pulled from the game. No exceptions. After that, they shouldn’t be brought into the lineup until it’s 100% evident that the players are, well, 100%. Head injuries are serious business, and have long term effects on day to day lives, not just hockey play.
  • As an aside, extend the 100% rule to all prospects at the AHL level. Joe Colborne playing for seven months on an injured wrist, effectively stalling his development for a year is an example of how this isn’t just a head problem. At that level, the growth of players is more important than the points in the standings.

I don’t feel there’s an obligation to the media to give them exact details on these injuries, but I have concerns when that point is brought up.

  • The paths to recovery for these players make it very obvious that these aren’t just "false flag" reports to calm the masses down and keep targets off players heads.
  • If they were, most would have smooth recoveries with good transitions back. If they were, the actual correct info would leak quickly, because lets be honest, this is Toronto. As quoted earlier, we call player’s mothers when the official story isn’t enough.
  • Rather, we’re getting what management and staff believe to be the legitimate story. It just happens to be wrong. They’re in a position now where they’d be better off to "no comment" whenever possible. Or, you know, re-evaluate their processes.
  • Plus, if it was a false flag, it’s a terrible example to give. If they were repeatedly saying that things weren’t so bad while actually solving a problem they know to be worse, they’d be publicly downplaying the severity of head injuries to the masses, for their own theoretical good. I just don’t see that happening.

I’m not saying that the Toronto Maple Leafs organization doesn’t believe in concussions. Their IR sheets do a very good job of making that theory plausible, but there’s nothing wrong with pointing out that this team is overly optimistic through the entire process of head contact. They’re accepting of an "I’m fine" when it looks worse. They’ll assume that what clearly looks like a concussion is a "minor issue" when it happens. They’ll seemingly clear a guy to play the second he seems capable of playing, instead of when he’s capable of playing like himself. That’s a scary place, no matter what way you look at it.

As For Lupul…

Since he is the lead in and the reason for this concern, I’m not saying for certain that he has a concussion. While it seems that most upper body injuries from head shots are concussions, it very well could be something else. But..

  • If the symptoms he was showing getting off the ice against Philadelphia weren’t concussion symptoms, they’re still not good ones. If it was enough for him to not nearly immediately feel fine, they should still be treated with the same concern.
  • This wouldn’t be Lupul’s first concussion if it happened. In a game against the Leafs in January of 2008, Lupul was hit by his own teammate, Darian Hatcher, who was looking to go after Alex Steen. It’s not a stretch to think that he could have suffered a second one.
  • And really, can you blame people for skepticism with all of the above considered?

In any event, whether it’s a concussion or not, there’s no room for mistake here. The Leafs have the Joffrey Lupul that every team before them was looking for. If he’s not handled with care, and brought back only when ready and not when convenient, the next five years could be long ones. And for Joffrey, maybe even further beyond that.

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My questions: Do you think the Leafs have an issue with their approach to head injuries? As well, how concerned are you about Lupul’s injury?

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