Former players file concussion lawsuit against NHL

Big hits are have always been a part of hockey. Will the new lawsuit against the NHL eliminate big hits from the game? (Photo courtesy of the russianmachineneverbreaks.com)

Big hits are have always been a part of hockey. Will the new lawsuit against the NHL eliminate big hits from the game? (Photo courtesy of the russianmachineneverbreaks.com)

By Mike Larson, Nov. 26, 2013

We all knew it was going to happen sooner or later, and on Monday, a group of former National Hockey League players dropped the bomb.

Ten former players have filed a class action lawsuit, basically saying that the NHL didn’t do enough to protect them during their careers.

This wasn’t unexpected. After the National Football League agreed to pay $765 million to 4,500 former players who sued the league on the grounds that it didn’t protect them, everyone knew it was just a matter of time before hockey players got involved.

As of now, 10 players are involved, but it’s likely hundreds, if not thousands more will join it. According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN, the players involved are Gary Leeman, Brad Aiken, Darren Banks, Curt Bennett, Richard Dunn, Warren Holmes, Bob Manno, Blair Stewart, Morris Titanic, and Rick Vaive.

So…it’s not exactly a star-studded list. At first glance, the only player who we even recognized was Darren Banks, and that’s only because he played a season for the Detroit Vipers of the now defunct International Hockey League. And we’re not even sure why Banks is suing. He only played 20 career NHL games, but whatever.

The suit, which is being handled jointly by a law firm in Laguna Hills, Calif., and another firm in Baltimore, alleges that the NHL should have done more to protect players from head injuries.

Here’s an excerpt of a release from the lawyers:

“The class action lawsuit, which is being leveled against the National Hockey League on behalf of former players, alleges that the NHL has failed to effectively respond to the head injuries sustained by players. The lawsuit contends that the NHL had behaved negligently and fraudulently in regards to the player sustained head trauma over the past decade.”

So here it is. The concussion discussion has officially made it into the hockey world. Sure, people talked about it before in terms of players like Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya, but it always seemed the conversations were about player toughness, not about safety.

But danger is the rule and injuries are an accepted rule in any contact sport, right? Is it fair for players, (at least one of the players involved in this lawsuit played without a helmet even though the league mandated that all incoming players had to protect their domes) to act like they didn’t know the sport was dangerous? Is it fair to blame the league?

I guess those are questions for the lawyers.

However, if what happened in the NFL case is any indication, this thing could get really expensive for the NHL.

Canada, Russia favored to win 2014 Winter Olympic gold

The Canadians will look to defend their gold medal from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Canadians will look to defend their gold medal from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

By Brad Constant, Nov. 22, 2013

Guess what, Canada is a favorite to win the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Who knew that such a talented team could have 11/5 odds of taking gold? We did, and we’re sure much of the world did too. (The latest odds come from Bovada.lv)

The Canadian team is stacked. The roster will definitely have proven goal scorers and playmakers like Rick Nash, Jonathan Toews, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos, if he is healthy in time. There will also be a guy named Sydney Crosby on the team. We’ve heard he’s pretty slick on the ice and has a knack for being the best guy out there – don’t tell that to Alexander Ovechkin (more on him later). Throw in Mike Babcock as the head coach – an angry and motivated head coach because his Detroit Red Wings are struggling – and you’ll have a team ready to claim another gold medal.

But hold on. The Russians have the same odds as the Canadians, and here is why. At the forward positions they have the aforementioned Ovechkin, a flashy, hard-hitting goal scorer. They also have Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Evgeni Malkin. These are guys that can put the puck in the net whenever they want. We are salivating at the prospect of a line with Oveckin and either Kovalchuk or Malkin on the wings and Datsyuk at center. That is the type of line that will make any defense quiver.

Speaking of defense, the Russian are pretty good on the backend too with Slava Voynov and the veteran Sergei Gonchar anchoring the defensive corps. In goal we could see Sergei Bobrovsky, Evgeni Nabokov, or Seymon Varlamov, if he isn’t in a Colorado jail.

When it comes down to it, both the Russians and Canadians are arguably the best national teams in the world. So it’s safe to say they could be playing for the gold medal. But we aren’t going to rule out some of the European teams like Sweden and Finland, or our favorites, the United States of America.

How parents can wreck a hockey game

By Brad Constant, Nov. 15, 2013

We here at The Hockey Ref understand that hockey is a passionate game. Players and coaches are obviously involved, but even parents can add to the environment in an arena. There is nothing wrong with parents cheering. In fact, we support any parent that goes out and cheers for their child’s team. But a parent crosses the line when they swear and berate the refs.

Thankfully this isn’t something that officials have to deal with at every game. Hockey parents as a whole are respectful and understanding. But at a recent game, this writer dealt with one unruly dad.

The atmosphere in the rink was great and the kids were flying up and down the ice. Each team played hard through the first two periods and the game was tied at one goal apiece going into the third. But that’s when the aforementioned dad began screaming and yelling at whatever he believed should be called a penalty or not called at all. Every action on the ice caused him to scream, and he was easy to single out since he was the only parent standing at the glass instead of sitting in the stands.

Such behavior is easy for the officials to ignore. Parents are outside the glass and not involved with the on-ice play. They stay in the stands and those playing the game stay on the ice taking up all of the ref’s attention.

However, this dad began swearing at us, and even worse, the kids. Nothing wrecks a hockey game quicker than such actions. And it doesn’t end there, this same father tried to get to one of the officials at the end of the game – thankfully the coaches were there to escort him back to the lobby.

We share this not to make hockey parents look bad. As a whole, hockey parents are amazing. They are supportive and understanding of everyone involved in the game. They wake up early to take kids to practice, drive long distances to sit in a cold arena while their child plays and pay lots of money so their kid can enjoy such an amazing game.

Instead we share this story with the goal of holding parents accountable across all sports. Your children love you and look up to you. Please act like an adult, do not berate the refs and don’t swear at youth sporting events. Set a positive example, it will go a long way in today’s world.

How Stamkos’ injury affects all of hockey

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Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos broke his tibia on Monday.

By Brad Constant, Nov. 12, 2013

Tampa Bay Lightning forward and offensive powerhouse Steven Stamkos broke his tibia after crashing into the goal post while playing against the Boston Bruins as part of the Bruins’ Veterans’ Day game on Nov. 11. The impact on Stamkos and the Lightning is obvious, he is out three to six months, according to bleacherreport.com (watch the GIF here), and the team is without its leading scorer. But Stamkos’ injury affects more than just the Lightning, it affects all of hockey.

Mainly, the National Hockey League is without one of, if not the most, natural goal scorers in all of hockey. Stamkos’ name may not be as well known as Sidney Crosby’s, but the man can score goals. He scored 60 of them during the 2011-12 regular season and was tied for the league lead with Alex Steen at 14 goals so far this season (check out hkref.com for Stamkos’ full career stats).

Simply put, Stamkos is a joy to watch play hockey. He is Brett Hull-like in his ability to find open space. His shot, whether it be a slapper, wrist or snap shot, is a thing of beauty – all youngsters out there should try to emulate him. Plus he loves scoring so much it’s contagious.

It’s a pity that fans around the league won’t be able to see his talent till his return. Even worse is the fact that he may very well miss the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a platform in which hockey fans worldwide could watch him score again and again. Team Canada will be fine since it’s, well, Canada…obviously. The Canadians are stacked with talent.

As hockey fans, we here at The Hockey Ref can only hope for Stamkos’ speedy recovery. We love watching him play, as long as it’s not against our favorite teams.

So have at it Steen, the stage is set for you to show us what you’ve got and win the scoring title this season.

Check out Yahoo! Sports for a video of his injury and obvious pain afterwords.

NHL rightly defends Shark-Sabres no-goal call

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Referee Mike Leggo makes a controversial no-goal call during the San Jose Sharks vs. Buffalo Sabres game on Nov. 5.

By: Brad Constant, Nov. 8, 2013

There has been some talk around the local rink about the controversial no-goal call during the San Jose Sharks vs. Buffalo Sabres game on Nov. 5. Many believe that referee Mike Leggo and the National Hockey League officials in the Toronto-based war room blew the call by waiving off what looked like a clear goal. However, the NHL has defended the call under the ‘intent to blow the whistle’ rule, and rightly so – you can read the CBSSports.com story and watch the video here.

Whether you agree or disagree, we support Leggo’s on-ice decision as well as the League’s support of the call. The puck obviously crossed the goal line, but only after Leggo clearly lost sight of the puck under Sabres’ goalie Ryan Miller. In fact, the only person on the ice who seems to have had eyes on the puck was Sharks’ forward Tommy Wingels. Therefore, the play should have been whistled dead.

But here is where the controversy arises, and Leggo can be called out for making a mistake. To the untrained eye it appears the Leggo does everything right except blowing the whistle at the right time. So what is Leggo’s mistake? Showmanship. He correctly washed out the attempt that hit the goal post so that everyone in the arena knew it wasn’t a goal. But he also held his arms out for far too long in a great impression of Jay Jay the Jet Plane.

We believe there would have been no issues with the call if Leggo correctly washed out the goal in the quick fashion officials are taught. He would have had his whistle in the correct position in time to blow the play dead when the puck was under Miller. Instead he held the signal and put himself in a tough situation in which he obviously had to think about the call. Thankfully he ended up making the right one and did so with conviction.

It was made worse thanks to the NHL’s mistake of not having Leggo put on the headset to talk with the officials in Toronto and discuss the call. As noted in the CBS Sports story, the NHL acknowledges that it messed up here. The pushback and claims of a blown call could have been far less if they got this right.

Either way, the right call was made in the end, and we’re sure that lessons have been learned too.

Suspensions for goalie fights?

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Photo courtesy of BleacherReport.com.

By: Brad Constant, Nov. 5, 2013

Goalie fights have come under scrutiny after Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Ray Emery raced down the ice and forced the Washington Capitals’ goalie Braden Holtby to fight on Nov. 1. There has even been a report via ProHockeyTalk.com that the National Hockey League will discuss 10-game suspensions for goalie fights.

Such a suspension may be over board since goalie fights are part of hockey, granted it is a rare occurrence. The NHL would be wrong to eliminate goalie fights all together.

However, the NHL may be onto something. A repercussion for goalies that leave their zone to fight could help eliminate instances where a known fighter, Emery, forces an unwillingly adversary, Holtby, to a fight – more on that later. A three-game suspension may be just what the League needs to help better control such situations.

With that said, there needs to be certain stipulations in which it is within the rules for a goalie to get involved in a brawl. We’ll stick with the aforementioned teams for this example. Say the brawl occurs in the Flyers’ defensive zone and Emery gets involved. This puts the Flyers’ in the advantageous position of having an extra guy with the gloves off. Therefore there should not be any repercussions for Holtby coming to the aid of his teammates and evening out the numbers – this is especially important since there are only four officials on the ice to break things up. Plus Emery has done nothing wrong because he is still in his zone.

But say both goalies leave their respective zones to square off at center ice, much like the classic Chris Osgood vs. Patrick Roy fight in 1998. Do you penalize both and suspend them for say three games after? No way. Both are willing combatants that skated to center ice to throw punches at one another. There is nothing wrong with two players willingly fighting each other, regardless of their position.

The only time a suspension should even come into the question is when something like the Emery vs. Holtby fight happens. Emery was out of place to skate the length of the ice and go after Holtby, who, repeat, didn’t want to fight. The officials made the right call by giving Emery a game misconduct and sending him to the locker room early. But that isn’t enough to persuade such actions from happening in the future. A three-game suspension for a goaltender who skates to his team’s offensive zone and forces a fight upon an unwillingly adversary could be just the thing to dissuade such situations. It wouldn’t eliminate goalie fights, but it would help protect guys like Holtby who don’t want to fight.

Last but not least, Emery’s repeated blows to the back of Holtby’s head were a disgrace. It’s understandable if the occasional punch hits a guy in the back of the head. But Emery went off and continued to strike the back of Holtby’s head, which isn’t right. Kudos to Holtby for not turtling, and for smiling afterwards.