On Monday a federal court in Minneapolis unsealed several emails involving NHL officials as part of a concussion lawsuit from some of the league’s former players.
Many of those emails involved sensitive communication between the NHL and various people involved with the league. On Tuesday, the Globe and Mail posted all of the messages.
Said the Globe and Mail:
Unlike the National Football League, the NHL is well down the road to solving the parts of the problem that can be solved. Fighting is fading away. Head shots are being steadily and more harshly punished. Players are being pushed – often unwillingly – to accept that hiding a head injury is no longer a sensible part of the tough-guy code. In relative terms, the culture of the game is changing remarkably quickly.
Where hockey lags behind professional football is in acknowledging a debt of responsibility to players who didn’t have the benefit of better information and/or a public crusade.
The e-mails reveal no obvious bad acts or bad actors. Taken in sum, they show the game’s caretakers doing in private what everyone else has been doing publicly – looking for answers.
There are 297 total documents the Globe and Mail published, all of which are searchable. The former players in the case say the NHL didn’t do enough to inform them about the dangers of head injuries or protect them.
Warning, the language on these emails can be strong.
TSN’s Rick Westhead pointed out that the NHL disbanded a concussion study group in 2007 that started in 1997.
Writes Westhead, “Pittsburgh neurologist Dr. Chip Burke and his colleagues examined NHL rules, pored over videos of player injuries, and spoke with NHL players, team doctors and trainers and league officials in a quest to make the game safer. But by June 2007, there was one thing Dr. Burke and his colleagues hadn’t completed — they never finished analyzing the data they collected.”
Below is an email from NHL lawyer Julie Grand on the concussion study group.
As for concussions and the NHL’s alleged lack of understanding around them, a hockey operations email involving Kris King, Mike Murphy and hockey ops director Colin Campbell shows a belief that players are “over-doctored.”
This email is from Ottawa Senators team trainer Gerry Townend, expressing his concerns over the handling of head injuries.
The emails also show correspondence between NHL clubs and the league in regards to the physical nature of the game and policing hockey at the NHL level.
In October of 2010, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang hit then New York Islanders forward Blake Comeau with an open ice check. Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero emailed Campbell around that time.
Nashville Predators owner Tom Cigarran got in touch with Bettman to talk about a head injury sustained by forward Mike Fisher after a hit by Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin on Oct. 30 of 2011. Beauchemin did not receive any extra discipline on the play.
In this 2009 email from Campbell to Brian Burke, who was then with the Maple Leafs, Campbell notes the balancing act between hockey's "tree huggers" and people who follow tough guy hockey analyst Don Cherry.
Campbell has many interactions with TSN’s Bob McKenzie. On Jan. 12, 2009, Campbell said he was considering saying he would get rid of fighting, but indicates he believes it would be tough to do so.
There’s also this interaction between McKenzie and Campbell from 2009 in regards to an elbow from Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry on San Jose Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo in the Western Conference playoffs.
Said Bettman at the 2016 NHL All-Star game about the pending release of documents, “I think that the selective release leaking of documents out of context may cause some people to scratch their head, a couple of other people maybe to, for a brief moment, be a little embarrassed about salty language or the like, but I'm very comfortable with our record. I think, in terms of us running our business on an ongoing basis and the fact that we have a league to run, I'd prefer these things not be public. They'll be a distraction at best. But I don't think they impact the merits of the case."
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