If the hit to Arizona Coyotes’ forward Boyd Gordon’s head would have been on Monday Night Football, or some other high-profile event, social media, the members of the Fourth Estate of newspaper writers and web content managers would have been all over this. Direct blow, concussion, concussion protocol, player safety. These issues clearly reflected the direct hit Gordon sustained.
Because the blow took place during an NHL game, late Saturday night and in the Mountain Time Zone, there was not much reference. In fact, little notice was given save an occasional mention in the Los Angeles Times and a few Arizona media outlets.
The play occurred with just under seven minutes to play, and the Kings held a 3-1 lead over the Coyotes. In the neutral zone, L. A. defenseman Jake Muzzin lowered his shoulder, stuck Gordon in the head, and the Coyotes’ forward fell to the ice in a hurry. Motionless for several minutes, Gordon was slow to his feet, did not return and missed Sunday’s game at Colorado. Gordon will also miss Tuesday night’s home contest against the Blackhawks, and is listed as day-to-day.
After an optional skate in the Gila River Arena Monday afternoon, Arizona coach Dave Tippett said the hit was not intentional and transpired during the normal course of play. Coming into the Kings’ game Monday night in Vancouver, Muzzin was tied for second on the club in penalty minutes with Milan Lucic and Kyle Clifford with 28. The pair trailed team-leader Andy Anderoff, who had 41 penalty minutes.
Though Tippett said Gordon “was feeling better (Monday),” the hit to the head did not take away from the growing concern over player safety. Given the heavy dose of promotion surrounding the current film “Concussion,” and the related discourse, safety issues continues to concern those who touch the sport except the participants.
Currently, there is no continuing dialogue around the NHL regarding the issue of player safety, and none appears on any agenda any time soon. Defenseman Michael Stone, the Arizona player representative, said he has had no dialogue with players on his team or others regarding the issue of player safety in general and concussions in particular. The only dialogue, he pointed out Monday after that optional skate, was conversation regarding logistics of the up-coming All-Star game in Nashville.
While the hit to Gordon was isolated, and the nature of head collisions in hockey appear less regular than football, the NHL did adopt a Concussion Protocol in 2010 and this was updated in 2011. At that time, the league took the incentive and identified concussions as a type of serious injury set apart. In a January 8, 2010 memorandum, the league required players, suspected of sustaining a concussion, be evaluated by a doctor and not the team trainer. The suspected player must leave the bench area and sequestrated in a quiet room. That concussion protocol went into effect on March 16, 2011.
That may have sufficient for players during the 2010-11 season, but two years later, retired players filed a law suit against the NHL. Here, 29 retired players claimed the league did not do enough to protect player safety when they played, and the suit remains in ligation.
“The league has always been in the forefront of player safety,” Tippett said. “Player safety has always been paramount. As coaches, we are required to take a class each training camp on concussions and concussion protocol.”
Veteran players concede advances in player safety have been dramatic. The changes include better and durable equipment, increased penalties on the ice and better medical treatment off the ice.
“Since I broke in, there have been big changes,” said Arizona defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who entered the NHL in the 2003-04 season with Minnesota and played on four teams. “Overall, I think everyone is doing a good job in this area. If you get injured, the doctor comes first and then the recovery. As players, we really don’t talk to each other about player safety and really, as players, there’s not much we can do.”
As of the close of business Monday, the NHL took no action against Muzzin, who received a match penalty as a result of the hit to Gordon’s head.
Heading into the New Year, Tippett has the luxury of playing two net-minder who are capable of quality efforts. While Louis Domingue played well in his last three games, Anders Lindbeck stopped 38 of 39 Colorado shots in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Avs Sunday night.
Currently, Tippett employs what he calls “you win, you’re in” mentality in reference to goal-tending. Since Lindback played well against Colorado, he will get the start Tuesday night at home against the defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks.
“Both are playing well now,” Tippett said. “If one gets hotter for a longer period of time, then we’ll go with that guy.”
After a quick look at some numbers, that’s not a bad problem to have. Coming into the Chicago game, the Coyotes, as a team, allowed 109 goals in 35 games. Only the Flames, Blue Jackets and Oilers allowed more goals.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.