There was some amazing news out of Montreal today as it was reported that Max Pacioretty might be able to return for the playoffs. I call this news "amazing" because I am bewildered that Pacioretty is even considering a return to the NHL this season after the devastating hit he took from Zdeno Chara and the subsequent injuries that were diagnosed as a result of that hit. The fact that there are doctors and personnel from the Canadiens that feel that Pacioretty can return after suffering a severe concussion and a non-displaced fracture of the fourth cervical vertebra in his neck is very encouraging for his career, but he may want to work himself back into the line-up a little slower than what they are saying.
I'm not a doctor nor do I play one on TV, but I do know what a "non-displaced fracture" is, and it's fairly safe when talking about a wrist or arm. Essentially, the bones are cracked, but the pieces remain aligned with the rest of the bone. When it comes to the spinal column, I'm pretty sure that should be taken a little more seriously.
I get that Pacioretty is an important cog in Montreal's line-up. The 22 year-old has been a solid contributor this season, and looks to be a regular in Montreal's game plan for the foreseeable future. What I find strange is that for how important he is to the Canadiens as a player, no one seems to be talking him out of coming back too early.
"It's encouraging because at one time there was a question of whether he could come back and play, so this is good news," head coach Jacques Martin stated. "And it's encouraging to see that he will be able to start his training in a short time and should be able to play in the playoffs."
Look, I want the kid to continue to play. He's an exciting player who has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career, but we're talking about his health and welfare here. If anything, the severe concussion and fractured vertebra should promote talk about increased prudence in allowing Pacioretty to return to the ice. Protecting Pacioretty from further injury - especially in the playoffs where everyone finishes their checks - should be something that the Canadiens are encouraging, not ignoring.
If we've seen an increase in recovery times for major injuries, we have seen it best exemplified this season in the treatment of Sidney Crosby. Crosby has been sidelined with a concussion since January 6, and the Penguins have been anything but rushed to have the game's best player return. In fact, it appears that the Penguins have almost encouraged Crosby to rest in order to get his head right instead of rushing him back into the line-up. While there's no doubt that Crosby is a box office draw for opposing teams, the fact that the Penguins are allowing Crosby to heal will be better for the player and the game in the long run.
In the case of Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens may be putting the youngster at risk by having him return so quickly from his injuries. Concussions don't always show the same tell-tale symptoms, making them hard to diagnose at first. In this Globe & Mail article, written by Sean Gordon and Anne McIlroy, the concern about Crosby was that he didn't show symptoms initially.
The short answer is that he displayed none of the classic symptoms of concussion, which would have caused officials to pull him from the game. If trainers or doctors see one or more of those symptoms, they'll typically withdraw the player and ask him questions to determine whether he’s okay.And therein lies the risk.
Mr. Crosby had a sore neck, but experts say that alone is not usually a sign of a concussion. Concussions are not visible injuries and athletes are notoriously loath to admit to weakness or be pulled out of games.
The danger is that when the NHL’s most famous player was hit a few days later, making his return to the game uncertain, his risk of more damage would have been increased if he had already suffered a concussion on Jan. 1, according to neuroscientists.
While it is certainly encouraging to hear that Pacioretty is able to return a few short weeks after suffering a horrific injury, there still needs to be some common sense used by all parties to ensure that he is ready to return to the game physically as he is mentally. While the mind may tell him that he's ready, the physical injuries may not yet have fully healed. This is where Pacioretty runs the risk of being injured again. And this time, it could be worse than his original injury.
This temptation to return to the ice as soon as possible has to end, especially after a major injury is suffered. Gambling with a person's health and well-being can only last for so long before the house wins. And in this case, when the house wins, everyone loses.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!