Information recently leaked out that Mikko Rantanen played the second round Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks with a hairline fracture in his leg last week. The news didn’t come from the Colorado Avalanche. It didn’t come from any of the media in Denver. It seeped out on Twitter from news reports in Finland.
Mikko Rantanen’s Injury
Finnish sports writer Jouni Nieminen questioned why there was a bunch of news coverage on Nathan MacKinnon playing with an injured shoulder, but no mention of Rantanen playing with a fractured leg. He thought people cared less about Rantanen than MacKinnon.
However, the real reason there were no accolades for Rantanen was that most Avalanche fans didn’t know about the injury.
The Avalanche never released a post-season injury update. They never held a post-season Q & A. They didn’t even do a post-season locker clean-out with media on hand. After all the excitement and engagement of the team’s playoff run, the season ended with silence.
The Avalanche’s Silence
The Avalanche have long been a team to play their cards close to the vest. In many ways, they remain an old-school franchise. They aren’t known for openness. But the world is changing. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow for informal communication across countries as well as social circles. Real news seeps out.
The Rantanen injury wasn’t the first Avalanche leak after the playoffs. Stalwart defenseman Erik Johnson posted a picture of himself on Instagram after shoulder surgery.
While everyone knew Gabriel Landeskog rushed back from injury to participate in the playoffs, the other two injuries were surprises.
Not all NHL teams follow the Avalanche’s tendency to conceal injuries at the end of the season. The San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson addressed team injuries at the end of their postseason run. Ken Holland updated people on Connor McDavid’s recovery from his PCL injury. The Boston Bruins released a list of eight players who limped through the Stanley Cup Final. The Dallas Stars even have a section on their webpage for injury reports. But the Avalanche? Nada. Zilch. Nothing.
Injury Secrets Cause Problems
The mystery around injuries is somewhat understandable during the season, and especially during the playoffs. A team may not fully disclose the nature of a player’s injury due to concerns opponents may target the player and level a hit that could do damage. But the season is over now and it’s time to give credit to the players who persevered.
Last season, many were concerned about the performance of the Avalanche’s defensemen against the Nashville Predators. When news leaked out that both Patrik Nemeth and Nikita Zadorov needed offseason shoulder surgery, the criticism abated. There’s a big difference between thinking a player didn’t step up in the big moment versus understanding they were fighting through injury to bring their best effort.
The other big drawback to withholding injury information on players concerns the culture it creates. When there’s no real information, rumors become more powerful. The truth gets lost. If the Avalanche truly want to control the narrative, the judicious release of an injury report would improve their chances. Instead, they are surrendering control to social media, which has a life of its own.
Letting people see how hard the players work to return to hockey should improve public opinion of the player, the sport, and the team. No one wondered if Joe Pavelski was giving his best during the San Jose Sharks playoff run. On the contrary, he became a public hero in the world of hockey, crossing the borders of team loyalty.
Along those lines, Rantanen looks more committed to his teammates and winning when people learn he played on a fracture in Game 7 against the Sharks. Recognizing he can’t run until July because of an injury changes expectations of his conditioning at training camp in September as well.
Every player on the Avalanche knows head coach Jared Bednar is a stickler about coming into training camp ready to play. If Rantanen should be a little slower than normal, knowing he’s returning from injury changes the public narrative. Otherwise, if the news hadn’t leaked out, it could turn into a story about how a young star is unhappy with his contract but he’s showing up even though not giving it his best effort. The Avalanche already had one of those. They should loathe repeating that media circus.
Time for the Avalanche to Change
In a few years, it will be virtually impossible for the Avalanche to keep injuries a secret. As countries and cultures become more intertwined, few things will remain private.
In the meantime, the Avalanche will continue to post fun, but meaningless, pictures of players on Twitter while some dedicated followers will be looking for the next big news break on Colorado’s injury front. Or wrestling with translating software to get news on players’ health from other countries.
It’s time for the Avalanche to embrace the new era and publicly acknowledge the dedication and commitment of their players. The silence is deafening.