James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Risky business

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Every now and then, you run into a story that just makes you shake your head and say “That’s what hockey players do!” When that thought goes through your head, it’s best to use the same inflection that a character uses toward a zany-but-beloved family member in a bad sitcom.


The latest occurrence revolves around the crazy accident that took Taylor Hall as its victim.


In case you didn’t see it, Hall lost his balance during pre-game warm-ups, taking out a fellow Edmonton Oilers player in the process. The two of them glided toward Corey Potter, who attempted to hurdle both but ended up landing his skate on Hall’s head.


The 2010 first overall pick is OK from a “didn’t lose his eye/get his throat cut” standpoint, but the extent of his OK-ness is still truly in doubt. I’ve heard some rumors that he’ll barely miss a couple more games and other ones that discuss this could end up being a season-ending injury.


(It’s hard to imagine Hall seeing his second season cut abruptly short because of questionable decision making, but one cannot completely dismiss it. If you don’t recall, Hall ruined the final portion of his rookie season by getting in an ill-advised fight.)




Naturally, a high-profile and tough-to-watch injury like the one that befell Hall raised the question of whether or not players should be forced to wear helmets during warm-ups.


To little surprise – if you understand the goofy, manly bravado of hockey players – NHL’ers generally dislike the idea of being forced to wear lids during normally breezy affairs. In fact, there’s an NHL Network loop in which Daniel Alfredsson casually discusses the fact that he was hit in the head with a puck in a pre-game situation and states that fans want them to go without helmets (or something).


I’m sorry, but it just seems silly that hockey players would want to open themselves up to random injuries, but “That’s what hockey players do!” If you give them the chance to disregard a piece of safety equipment – particularly in the name of, let’s face it, looking pretty – they’ll jump at it. Something tells me it’s a matter of routine or perhaps vanity rather than evidence of some kind of libertarian bent.



Honestly, if I were an NHL owner, GM or even head coach, I wouldn’t be wild about multi-million dollar investments opening themselves up to injuries that don’t happen during the natural flow of play. It’s not that different from putting language in a contract that severely punishes a player for wiping out on a motorcycle, only the risk involved is far less direct, loud and obvious.


We’ll have to wait and see how long that gash keeps Hall out, but if you ask me, one could argue that every game he misses is too much (assuming that a helmet might have absorbed a pretty significant amount of that impact.)


You’d like to think that other players would see that, cringe and then consider changing their habits, but these are players who make their millions by laying their bodies in front of harder, more direct shots. Being afraid of vulcanized rubber isn’t really an option, so why would they be afraid of pucks and other mishaps during events in which the shots and movements are casual?


Ultimately, we all need to take a deep breath and remember that taking big risks is what hockey players always do – even if it’s not always easy to understand.



Brian Elliott took a big risk by agreeing to a one-year, two-way deal to prove himself this off-season, but it’s paying off because he just signed a two-year, $3.6 million extension with the St. Louis Blues. It’s a great story for sure, but fantasy owners might not be ecstatic that the red-hot goalie doesn’t have that huge dangling carrot of motivation hanging in front of him anymore. Considering the out-of-left-field success he’s had, it’s natural to worry that he might run out of steam now that he’s not being fueled by the great driving force of greed.


Considering the way he’s been playing, it’s not an awful risk on the Blues’ part, though – although it does make for a pricey duo between Elliott and Jaroslav Halak.



Another heart-warming story from Wednesday was that Peter Mueller scored two goals and an assist, breaking through in the first major way since Rob Blake rocked his career with that big concussion. Perhaps this is a sign of good things to come for the clever forward, but you might want to wait and see if he can keep this up (or most importantly, keep healthy) … Rene Bourque played against the revenge-seeking Washington Capitals, dropped the gloves, won the fight and watched Michal Neuvirth blank his new team 3-0. That’s not the result the bloodthirsty portion of the Caps’ audience wanted nor was it what Bourque wanted, but if you’re the type to make savvy PIM-related moves, you had to feel smart about getting that fighting major last night … Zdeno Chara and Alfredsson are your All-Star Game captains … The Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens continue to look miserable while the Anaheim Ducks are starting to gather momentum with their third win in a row.



Ryan Suter isn’t likely to play tonight … Kris Letang might be, surprisingly enough, though … Jamie Benn might be able to return as early as next Tuesday if things go well … Curtis Glencross suffered a knee injury, so stay tuned for updates on that … Paul Gaustad left Wednesday’s game with an upper-body issue … Kris Russell and Alexander Steen could return for the surging Blues soon. (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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