December 20, 2011
The NHL All-Concussion Team gained some depth at wing on Monday night, as the Toronto Maple Leafs regrettably announced that winger Colby Armstrong suffered a concussion during Saturday's game with the Vancouver Canucks.
Curiously, this announcement came two full days after the injury was sustained. The Maple Leafs said they had only just learned about it.
Last week, I wrote about NHL organizations being secretive about their concussed players, and possibly delaying the announcement on these injuries if they could. Is that what happened here?
Not entirely. There was a cover-up, but it wasn't by the Leafs. It was by Armstrong. From the Toronto Star:
The hard-luck Maple Leafs forward suffered the concussion on Saturday night after colliding with Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, but hid his condition from team trainers until he was found vomiting and suffering blurry vision on Monday.
"He didn't tell the trainers or the doctors, but he had his bell rung," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "He was nauseated, blurry vision, so he's got a concussion, and we didn't know that.
"He's going to be out however long he needs to be out now."
If you're wondering why Armstrong would do something as crazy as trying bluff his way through a concussion that had him throwing up and unable to see straight, especially after the horrific year the NHL has had with concussions -- there were, as you might recall, career-threatening concussions, career-ending concussions, and concussion-related deaths -- the clue is in the last line of the quoted text.
"Out however long he needs"? That's the nightmare, especially for Armstrong.
You really have to feel for the guy. After enjoying 79 and 82-game seasons in Atlanta, including a 40-point season in 2008-09, tying his career-high, Armstrong earned himself a 3-year, $9 million deal with the Maple Leafs in the summer of 2010. Better, he joined a young forward corps with whom he could grow and potentially establish himself as more than just a checking winger.
But it's been awful for him since coming north. He's spent more time in the medical room than on the ice. When it was announced that he would miss time with an ankle injury only 5 games into the 2011-12 season, it was just more of the same. From the Toronto Sun:
Armstrong wasn't having a great season in terms of personal production, with no points in five games and a minus three. But he's got some size, loves to chirp and is annoying to play against, as well as being a lucky charm. Toronto was 4-0-1 this year when he started a game, 4-1-1 last season when the first of his many medical problems began.
To date in his Leaf career, Armstrong has been plagued by two broken feet, injuries to both hands, bleeding in his eye and now twisting his ankle on an innocent looking play on Wednesday against Winnipeg. He's missed 33 of 87 games and will be gone at least the balance of this four-game road trip.
The game versus Vancouver was only his fourth game back after missing 23 games -- a great deal more than the balance of that four-game road trip -- with what turned out to be a high ankle sprain.
How bad has his luck been? On the collision with Kesler that concussed him, he broke his toe, too. (The difference is that, in addition to deciding to play through that injury, he also disclosed it.)
Armstrong knows as well as anybody that, while he can't help his bad luck, his stock plummets with every injury. No one wants to pay multiple millions for an injury-prone forward, and that's the label Armstrong is perilously close to earning.
If he can't put a healthy string of healthy games together, he'll he hard-pressed to find another contract when his current deal expires in a year.
And now he has a concussion and will be out "however long he needs." Recall that this is the same type of injury that sidelined Sidney Crosby for nearly a year, that may have ended Chris Pronger's career, and that sidelined Marc Savard in perpetuity.
It's an injury with no recovery timeline whatsoever for a player already sick to death of sitting out and worried to death that his career rests on proving he's still worth what he's making.
Armstrong also knows full well that he's not Sidney Crosby. No one is going to ask about him daily. There will be no press conference. Hockey Night in Canada is not going to pre-empt Little Mosque on the Prairie for his Monday night return.
He's just going to be ignored, like David Perron was ignored. And if he's declared fit to play after this contract expires -- a contract on which he'll have played 59 of a possible 246 games -- he's going to be hard-pressed to find a buyer for his services.
But man, while I get all that, a concussion is not something you play through. Not anymore. And clearly, some players have yet to fully accept this.
They have to. This past year, we've been given more evidence than ever before to the overwhelming fact that concussions are not something you treat lightly. We've learned that brain trauma, especially that which goes untreated or under-respected, can have severe ramifications for life after hockey, even so much as to render it nigh un-liveable.
Clearly, Armstrong is done with sitting out, and clearly, he wants nothing to do with the inexact science of overcoming brain trauma, but there are worse things in life, and trying to hide and play through a concussion is the road to more than a few of them.