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Players hurt in silence

NHL teams have option to hide injury specifics

NEW YORK – Just as no kid wants to walk through the halls of high school with a “kick me” sign taped to his back, NHL teams have gone to new lengths this season to eliminate inviting targets and protect injured players.

Armed with specific knowledge about where an opponent aches, might a hockey player take a run at the most vulnerable part of his adversary’s body? General managers believe the threat is real, so they’ve taken a big step toward keeping injury information hidden.

“There is logic to that,” Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano said. “If we know that someone is a little hampered or something is slowing them up, certainly you’re aware of that. People will take liberty with that, just because at that point you’re just doing anything to win.”

It had become common practice during the playoffs to hear that players were hobbled by vague, undisclosed upper- and lower-body injuries – problems that could be anything from a concussion to a broken toe.

During last season’s Stanley Cup finals, GMs voted to allow teams to withhold specifics of what is ailing players during the regular season. Teams now have the choice about how forthcoming they want to be.

Clubs are required to announce that a player is expected to miss a game because of injury, or that he won’t return to one he left early. Providing false information is prohibited, along with issuing misleading statements.

“The extent of the disclosure of the particular injury has evolved over time to the point where some of the policies just weren’t working and getting a little absurd,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “It’s a credit to our players that our guys are so passionate about the game that they will play hurt.

“We think after we’ve reviewed what has and hasn’t gone on over the last few years, as long as there’s an accurate disclosure that a player is injured and won’t be playing, announcing the extent of the injury – and it must be accurate – is up to the club.”

From players to team executives, the reason given for the change is that it’s in the best interest of those who are risking their health on the ice.

There is a fine line that must be toed, however, as the public shells out large sums of money in a depressed economy to attend games. Fans want to see their favorite players, and if they’re not on the ice, want to know why.

“If you’re paying $100 to go to the game would you rather (an injured player) get run and miss the next 20 games?” New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow said. “I understand the frustration.”

How much does a fan deserve to know about a star who wasn’t well enough to be in the lineup?

“It’s a tough subject,” said Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who was hurt earlier this week. “Being a player, I think I’m in favor of it because there are times my injury is listed and it’s something that other teams are going to take advantage of.

“As long as the fan knows a player is not playing that night, the actual injury I don’t think should really make a difference. I understand the reason behind it, but if you know the day of that a player is not playing, that should be enough.”

In times gone by, it was.

Paul Holmgren has seen the old and the new, first as a player on Philadelphia’s Broad Street Bullies and now as GM of the Flyers.

“There was basically just the print media, and depending on what team you were with, limited TV coverage,” Holmgren said. “Today, the information that is available through a lot of different resources has pushed it to another level. It certainly wasn’t around back when I played. It was almost like, ‘Who cares?’ Now everybody wants to know.”

 
Tags: hockey, NHL

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