Monday, January 07, 2008

Cullen and the C-word

I'm working on an injury report I'll have up here shortly, but one thing that struck me immediately is that Matt Cullen's absence is being describes as an illness, and not, you know, related to this.

Last week, Cullen quietly returned to the 'Canes lineup after missing two games, played just more than four minutes and, well, now he's inexplicably unwell:
Matt Cullen returned to the lineup Monday after missing two games while recovering from an open-ice hit that broke his nose.

Although he skated six shifts in the first period, he did not return after the first intermission....

"He's looked good the last two days," Laviolette said. "He skated [Monday] morning. He was fine. He got into the game today and just didn't feel well, still lingering effects from the hit."
I've brought this up before, in relation to Simon Gagne, but here it goes again: The measures that the NHL has taken to prevent concussed players from returning too early are not effective if the injuries are being misrepresented, played down or ignored entirely.

If it's the result of a hit, it's a concussion — not an illness. That's just not acceptable, and someone involved with the league or the PA needs to intervene.

Either Cullen had taken the baselines tests and passed before he played in this game, or he didn't take them at all. Gagne took one and passed before his initial return, and like Cullen, had to return to the sidelines.

Is the test not working, or not being used?

And if we're going to be serious about these injuries, enough with the euphemisms on the official injury reports.

UPDATE Colorado's Kurt Sauer is listed with a neck injury even though he's struggling with concussion symptoms.

UPDATE Edmonton prospect Tyler Spurgeon is listed with an "undisclosed" ailment, which turns out to be a concussion.

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At 2:02 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

The AMA should intervene. Surely this is clear-cut malpractice.

At 2:16 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mattias Ohlund of the Canucks has missed a number of the last few Canuck games with what's being called "neck spasms". THere was an article in the paper about how they are avoiding using the "C-word". If teams are doing this to avoid any kind of baseline testing before getting clear to play, it is totally reprehensible. At any rate, you can add Ohlund's name to the list of "c-word" injuries.

At 2:45 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Pinder said...

I always think of a different word when I hear the term "C-word"

At 2:45 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Problem is BOTH parties prefer to NOT list these injuries as concussions
2) For players having a concussion seems to bring a stigma. Especially if they have more than one. Teams look at them as being damaged goods so the players may be reluctant to be classified as such
3) Teams want their players back ASAP, and being called a concussion would mean neurological exams, etc that could place the player on an extended leave. So both paries have incentive to play down this potentially dangerous injury

At 2:46 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Andrew Bucholtz said...

Hiding concussions is epidemic in hockey. Check out Randy Starkman's series in the Toronto Star last month for a great investigation of this subject. It also showed how the denial goes right to the top: Colin Campbell was quoted as saying that he thinks many players are faking career-ending concussions to collect insurance (I wrote about how stupid this was for the Queen's paper here ). Very few in hockey admit concussions or recognize their severity. Also, in a twist from their utter ineptitude in dealing with the Gagne episode, the Flyers have admitted that Joffrey Lupul picked up a "mild" concussion when teammate Derian Hatcher took him out...

At 2:57 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The larger problem with Lupul, as I read it, is the spinal cord contusion. Somehow I think if he didn't have such a serious injury the team would have a harder time admitting he had a concussion because of friendly fire.

I can't give them credit for caving to the obvious.

At 2:58 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Bubba said...

Agree with you 100% James, everyone knows Cullen must have suffered a concussion. But even now, the team is being inconsistent with how they are reporting it. This excerpt is from one of their paid correspondents and is taken directly from their website. In it the writer says that Matt is sidelined because of a concussion. Yet the official word is that he is still out with an "illness".

7. Matt Cullen: A big cheer went up amongst Carolina Hurricanes’ fans when Rutherford traded for Cullen this offseason, returning the third-line center to a place where he scored 25 goals two seasons ago. And Cullen hasn’t disappointed, pumping up a dormant power-play on the point while netting 37 points in 39 games. The center is sidelined now with a concussion, but once Cullen returns he’s sure to shatter his career-high point total of 49 with the Canes during the 2006 Cup season. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy

At 4:09 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

Good points, Faux - I hadn't considered the very real financial implications to the players involved.

At 5:54 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Aaron said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:59 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Aaron said...

I think your points on concussions are well made and well taken. Too often concussions are confused with weakness in sports and in these situations we need a system to protect players from themselves and from their coaches. There has to be somebody involved with the process of clearing head injuries who is NOT a team employee. As long as the person making the decision on the health of the player has a stake in the player's return it doesn't matter whether it's player, coach, team doctor, or GM who makes the decision.

I think this also points to a larger issue in the league in regards to reporting injuries. Obviously teams don't want to let anyone know who is injured or what the injury really is, things are getting out of hand. It's time that the NHL went the way of the NFL and enforced a strict policy on reporting injuries. The only way to get any team to be honest about injuries, especially concussions, is to make sure every team is honest about injuries. To get honest reporting on concussions we may have to say goodbye to the infamous upper and lower body injuries.

At 7:33 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A huge problem is a complete lack of objective diagnosis. I've had several, including post-concussion syndrome, which still lingers 2 years later. Most of the time I had no idea until well after the event, although in retrospect it was pretty clear. I wasn't trying to cover it up, but I assure you, the concussed player is the last person to know s/he's concussed - the brain is fuzzy and typically unable to realize it. ER docs and neurologists could never definitively diagnose me since it doesn't show up on MRIs, CT scans, EEGs or functional EEGs. All this baseline testing is pure speculation. I know because I've been there with some topnotch neurologists. There absolutely needs to be more awareness, but until there is objective testing, it will always be under-reported by even the most vigilant people.

At 7:44 p.m., January 07, 2008, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

I always think of a different word when I hear the term "C-word"

But seriously, the hiding of concussions will stop when a player who loses several years of a multi-million-dollar career (maybe it'll be Gagne, maybe it'll be Bergeron) sues his team, the team "doctors", the league, and the PA for negligence.

What part of "brain like Swiss cheese" in Chris Benoit's autopsy report didn't the NHL understand?

At 9:07 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently the Rangers don't have this problem. 2 days after crashing into the boards and leaving the game with a "neck stinger," Straka has been diagnosed with a concussion and won't return until he's symptom-free.

At 10:51 p.m., January 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

none of this will change until (1) the players are honest about their symptoms and dont try to cover up their problems to get back in the lineup, and (2) the teams stop trying to place competitive advantage over long-term player mental health.

Unfortunately, (2) will never change unless its forced on them, and (1) will never change period.

So the best I think can happen would be for the league and the NHLPA to agree that for all head injuries/possible head injuries, an independent physician expert will examine the player to determine if a concussion has occurred, do the baseline and comparison testing, and then to “release” that player back into game action. As long as you leave the teams in control of the issue, they are going to have an incentive to fudge. And an independent physician will be less inclined to “take a players word for it” when it comes to symptoms.

At 5:53 a.m., January 08, 2008, Blogger Valerie said...

I believe in the OHL all players are assessed at the beginning of the season. If a player gets a serious enough head shot, then there is a real baseline to assess the injury "baseline" tests to. It would be interesting for the NHL/NHLPA to check out how it's working if they are really interested.

At 9:15 a.m., January 08, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a different sport, but this discussion reminds me of an article I just read.

At 10:14 a.m., January 08, 2008, Blogger AWF said...

Blitzen: The NHL does the same as the OHL - every player is benchmarked.


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