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Iced Coffey

To Tell Tort’s Truth

Never let it be said that John Tortorella sugar-coats anything. The New York Rangers’ coach has his way of doings things and the rest of us can damn well love it or lump it.

Gotta love someone with the courage of his convictions in a world loaded with political correctness. And Tortorella put his convictions right out there for all to see Tuesday night after the Rangers blanked the Nashville Predators.

Madison Square Garden Chairman James Dolan made a very, very rare appearance among the media hordes after the game to praise GM Glen Sather and proclaim the Rangers “pretty close” to winning a Stanley Cup.

For the edgy Tortorella, this was not the message he wanted his players to hear. He preaches a day-by-day, game-by-game approach and doesn’t need his players resting easy knowing the big boss thinks things are hunky dory.

So, as Dolan left the podium after sharing some wisdom, Tortorella didn’t waste any time basking in the glow of the chairman’s words.

“Right now, up to this point we’ve done a pretty good job — we just have to go about our business,” Tortorella said.“Like I have my owner up here talking about a Stanley Cup. That’s a bunch of bullshit. We need to take one game at a time.”

Get that, Dolan?

A mind-bending problem—Unless you have been living under a rock, you know concussions are reaching epidemic proportions in the NHL. Sidney Crosby is the most prominent of those afflicted with the dreaded brain injury, but boy, oh boy, he doesn’t have sole ownership of the dilemma.

The CBC’s Tim Wharnsby is tracking how many players have been sidelined by concussions this season and the list is long and alarming. Here is the list he published on Tuesday morning, starting with the number of games missed.

40 - Andy McDonald, St. Louis—was hit in a scrum by his own teammate David Backes in a game against Dallas on Oct. 12.

40 - Peter Mueller, Colorado - missed last season with a concussion and after three games this year he began suffering symptoms on Oct. 12. But he returned on Jan. 12.

37 - Radek Martinek, Columbus - the Blue Jackets defenceman was knocked out of game against Detroit on Oct. 22.

36 - Marc Staal, N.Y. Rangers - was hit head-on by his brother Eric during a Feb. 22 game against Carolina. He missed the next three games, but returned to action to finish the season and playoffs. He was hampered by headaches in training camp and made his return at the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

36 - Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh - was knocked out of action with a concussion on Jan. 5 and after 320 days on the sidelines Sid the Kid finally returned to action on Nov. 21. However, he suffered another setback on Dec. 5 and has suffered concussion-like symptoms. He has just resumed training.

31 - Jay Beagle, Washington—suffered a head injury in a fight with Pittsburgh forward Arron Asham on Oct. 12. He returned on Dec. 28.

28 - Guillaume Latendresse, Minnesota - the Wild forward collided into the boards and suffered a concussion in a game against San Jose on Nov. 10. He returned to action on Dec. 13, but left the next game after seven minutes with concussion-like symptoms.

25 - David Perron, St. Louis - took a head shot on a hit from San Jose’s Joe Thornton on Nov. 4, 2010 and missed the remaining 72 matches last season and the start of this year. He scored a goal in his return on Dec. 3.

24 - Chris Pronger, Philadelphia - again the Flyers did not reveal until well after the fact that their stud defenceman, who also has underwent knee surgery, suffered a head injury.  The team says he will not return this season.

22 - Marcel Goc, Florida - has been missing from the Panthers lineup since Nov. 15 and didn’t return until Jan. 5.

20 - Kris Letang, Pittsburgh - suffered a concussion after an open-ice hit from Montreal’s Max Pacioretty on Nov. 26.

20 - Jochen Hecht, Buffalo - was concussed in a preseason game in Germany and didn’t return to action until Nov. 23.

18 - James Reimer, Toronto - the Maple Leafs maintain that their goalie did not suffer a concussion, but he has missed significant time with concussion-like symptoms after his mask was knocked off by Montreal captain Brian Gionta on Oct. 22. He returned on Dec. 3

18 - Mike Sauer, N.Y. Rangers - was slammed by Toronto defenceman Dion Phaneuf along the boards on Dec. 5.

17 - Joni Pitkanen, Carolina - suffered a concussion on Dec. 6 in a game against Calgary.

16 - Jeff Skinner, Carolina - was knocked out of action when hit by Edmonton defenceman Andy Sutton on Dec. 7. He returned on Jan. 15.

13 - Marek Zidlicky, Minnesota - the Wild D suffered a concussion when hit by Columbus forward Derek Dorsett in a game on Nov. 15. He returned on Dec. 14.

13 - Tyler Kennedy, Pittsburgh - troubled by concussion-like symptoms since Oct. 16. He returned to action on Nov. 15.

12 - Colby Armstrong, Toronto - was hit in the head by Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler on Dec. 17, did not disclose the concussion until two days later.

12 - Jesse Winchester, Ottawa - was hit from behind by Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad on Dec. 21.

11 - Al Montoya, N.Y. Islanders - was run over by Winnipeg’s Evander Kane in a game on Dec. 20.

11 - David Ullstrom, N.Y. Islanders - suffered a head injury in the same game Montoya did, but is back playing in the minors as of Jan. 12.

10 - Robert Bortuzzo, Pittsburgh - was nailed by Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo on Dec. 8. He has since been cleared and demoted to the minors on Jan. 7.

10 - Jay Harrison, Carolina - was knocked out of action on Nov. 23 and returned Dec. 18.

10 - Zbynek Michalek, Pittsburgh - also suffered a concussion in the same game as Letang on Nov. 26. He returned on Dec. 23.

10 - Simon Gagne, Los Angeles - suffered a head injury when hammered into the boards by Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata on Dec. 26.

10 - John-Michael Liles, Toronto - was hit by Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad in a game on Dec. 22.

Nine - Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay - was concussed after he slid into the boards in a game on Dec. 27.

Nine - Marco Sturm, Flordia - took a puck in the head while on the bench in a game on Dec. 20.

Nine - Marcus Kruger, Chicago - was nailed on a hit from Penguins defenseman Derek Engelland on Dec. 20, but played again on Dec. 26. But he returned to the sidelines after the Boxing Day game and was back in the lineup on Jan. 14.

Nine - Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia - the Flyers finally admitted the NHL rookie suffered a concussion on Dec. 3 a week after the incident happened. He returned to action on Dec. 27.

Nine - Cody McCormick, Sabres - he suffered a concussion in a game against Montreal on Nov. 14 and returned on Dec. 9.

Nine - Nathan Gerbe, Buffalo - was hit-from-behind by Philadelphia’s Marc-Andre Bourdon on Dec. 7. He returned on Dec. 31.

Eight - Alex Steen, St. Louis - suffered his head in jury in a game against the Red Wings on Dec. 26.

Eight - Alex Plante, Edmonton - suffered a concussion when nailed into the boards by Canucks fourth-liner Dale Weise on Dec. 26.

Eight - Mike Mottau, NY Islanders - left practice on Dec. 30 with a head injury.

Eight - Ryan Miller, Buffalo - suffered a head injury when he collided with Bruins forward Milan Lucic in a race of a loose puck on Nov. 12. He returned on Dec. 3.

Eight - Mike Richards, Los Angeles - was dazed after being hit by Florida’s Sean Bergenheim on Dec. 1. He returned on Dec. 22.

Seven - Steve Staios, N.Y. Islanders - suffered a head injury in a game against Montreal on Dec. 13. He returned on Dec. 31.

Seven - Francis Bouillon, Nashville—suffered concussion on Jan. 16. After missing 51 regular season and playoff games last year and the first seven matches this season, he returned to action on Oct. 25.

Five - Nicklas Backstrom, Washington - was knocked out with a head injury after a hit by Calgary’s Rene Bourque on Jan. 3.

Five - Ben Smith, Chicago - missed the first; five games of the regular season following a hit to the head by Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith in an exhibition game.

Five - Carlo Colaiacovo, St. Louis - suffered a concussion after taking an awkward spill into the boards in the Blues season opener on Oct. 8. He returned on Oct. 21.

Five - Adam McQuaid - hit his head on the ice during an Oct. 12 game and returned to action on Oct. 27.

Five - Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa - the Senators captain was hit by Rangers forward Wojtek Wolski on Oct. 29 and returned on Nov. 11

Five - Milan Michalek, Ottawa - joined his brother on the sidelines when he collided with teammate Erik Karlsson on Dec. 13 and was back in action on Dec. 27.

Five - Brian Rolston, N.Y. Islanders - left his team’s game with a head injury in a game against Dallas on Dec. 15 and returned 12 days later.

Four - Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota - The Wild announced Bouchard has suffered concussion-like symptoms on Jan. 10. He broke his nose from a hit by Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian on Dec. 13, but continued to play. He then took an elbow in a game against Vancouver on Jan. 4.

Four - Rick DiPietro, N.Y. Islanders—took a shot off the mask in practice on Oct. 12 and suffered a concussion. He returned on Oct. 25.

Four - Nino Niederreiter, N.Y. Islanders - was hit in the head by Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric on Dec. 3. He was back in action on Dec. 17.

Four - Claude Giroux, Philadelphia - was hit in the head by the knee of teammate Wayne Simmonds in a game on Dec. 10. He returned with a four-point game on Dec. 21.

Four - Shea Weber, Nashville - suffered a concussion on a hit from Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric. The Predators defenseman returned on Jan. 5.

Three - Marco Scandella, Minnesota - the Wild defenseman was knocked out of action with a concussion on Nov. 12 and returned on Nov. 23.

Three - Steve Mason, Columbus - was hit in the head in practice by a shot from teammate Rick Nash on Nov. 21 and returned six days later.

One - James Van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia - was pulled out of action on Jan. 14 after taking hits to the head in back-to-back games.

One - Chris Phillips, Ottawa - was concussed on Jan. 2 in a game against New Jersey, but returned on Jan. 7.

One - Daniel Paille, Boston - was hit by Florida’s Krys Barch on Dec. 8 and returned on Dec. 13.

Total - 722 man-games lost to head injuries so far this season.

Yikes! CBA negotiations or no CBA negotiations, trying to solve, or at least ease, the concussion problem has got to be Job 1 for the NHL and the Players’ Association. The problem is there is no quick fix. You can’t take one play or piece of equipment away and solve the problem.

Concussions have to be attacked along a broad front. Better helmets, the proper use of chin straps, taking hard-edge shoulder and elbow pads out of the game, and more stringent penalties for dangerous hits to the head should help immensely. Slowing the game down a notch or two also may have to be considered.

But, and there is always a but, ... But, in a contact sport like hockey, there will always be concussions. The good news is the league and its teams are now paying very close attention to the problem. No longer do we chuckle over a player “getting his bell rung” because we now know the insidious injury can be career-ending and life altering.

And as an aside, a concussion is unlike a broken bone. Only the injured player really knows when he is feeling better. And the recovery time differs widely from player to player. So those not concussed should not cast doubt on those who are trying to recover. All concussions are different, so too is the recovery time. We now know enough about the injury to realize the very real dangers of rushing back. So while a player may look healthy enough to play, those appearances are often misleading. It’s not always apparent that a player’s mind is clouded by a concussion. You have to rely on the injured player to make the call.

Does anyone think Sidney Crosby wouldn’t be playing if he felt he was capable? Does anyone really think Pat Lafontaine wanted to end his career as prematurely as his ended?

The answer is no on both counts. Look at the above list. With competition for jobs being what it is these days inside pro sports and out, not one player on the list wanted to miss a moment. No one wants to be the NHL version of Wally Pipp circa 2012.

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Comments

w2j2's avatar

You gotta love Tortorella.

He is great entertainment every time he opens his mouth.

Even better than Brian Burke.

Posted by w2j2 on 01/18/12 at 02:44 PM ET

SYF's avatar

I remember at one point a few weeks ago, Mickey Redmond on an FSD broadcast said that the League has about $78 million worth of concussions on the shelf.  “Unbelievable,” he says.

And they’re some pret—ty high profile players.

Posted by SYF from Zata's Epic Viking Beard on 01/18/12 at 04:25 PM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

move along people nothing to see here…

I’ve been a torts fan for a couple years now and this just put him right under Babs in my book.  LOVE THIS SHIT.  He’s the coach, he’s in charge of player motivation.. Owners need to stay in the dark corners where they belong.  He’ll bench a star player to make a point, that you have to work, he’ll call out owners “bullshit”.. love this guy.

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 01/18/12 at 07:58 PM ET

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About Iced Coffey

Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.