Winston Churchill once proclaimed himself to be an optimist. Why? Because “it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” That Winnie. Always had a line up the ole sleeve.
Many people have spiralled into a level of depression so deep after yesterday’s whatever-the-hell-that-was they would be fitting of a place in Dante’s follow up to Inferno — 700 years in the making! — which I say will catalogue sadness. Those folks are likely around the fourth level of the pit and gradually sinking deeper and deeper. Not good.
However, as somebody who decided he was going to be positive today — Context: I’m probably the closest thing to a real life Charlie Brown you know — I’m happy to put my own spin on things. I suspect yesterday was all posturing. I suspect a deal gets done. And we can all rejoice knowing that many players will have years added to their careers because they had time to rest fairly serious concussion issues.
Exhibit A: Pierre-Marc Bouchard
For those of you who have watched the Minnesota Wild at all over the last decade, you know that Pierre-Marc Bouchard is a fairly dynamic player out on the ice. Good speed, vision and playmaking skills all lend themselves to excitement. Unfortunately, those of you who have watched the Wild regularly know that seeing him at all is an opportunity that can be few and far between.
His primary detractor has been serious concussion issues. Last season he missed the final 41 games of the year after Zach Bogosian dispatched PMB face first into the end boards. As Mike Halford points out over at Pro Hockey Talk, Bouchard missed 112 of a possible 113 games between March 2009 and December 2010 due to similar issues. He is a red flag for head trauma.
Some of the good news to come out of this lockout has been for players like Bouchard. Extensive, recurring injuries can only be triumphed with rest, relaxation and rehab. Yet, as we all know, in the put up or shut up nature of professional sports, there’s an obvious temptation to conceal injuries lest you lose playing time, money and, potentially, a job.
To borrow an example from a league that is playing games, consider San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Smith went down with a concussion in week 10 of the season, the 49ers had young backup Colin Kaepernick step in and perform adequately, and now it remains to be seen whether or not Smith will ever get that starting job again.
Not only did reporting a concussion cost Smith a couple of games, it may have ultimately cost him his job and, when it’s all said and done, millions of dollars.
Cases such as the Smith-Kaepernick conundrum are a regularity in sports, yet they only receive the appropriate amount of attention when it’s a high profile case such as an NFL quarterback controversy. Every day athletes are forced to decide whether or not they want to potentially incur long term health issues by playing through a head injury or undergo proper treatment and potentially lose their jobs.
For talented, lower profile players like Bouchard or even a megastar with question marks like Sidney Crosby, this lockout is perfect timing.
Consider Eric Lindros after the 2004 lockout. Lindros did not play at all during the 2004 year after his 2003-04 season was cut short due to a — you guessed it — concussion. Many forget that the season following the lockout with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lindros was a force for Toronto. He was, admittedly, a shell of what he once was, but virtually carried the Leafs who were without Mats Sundin early on. Lindros ultimately had his year cut short by a wrist injury which robbed him of more years in hockey, but his head injuries didn’t resurface and he was a point-per-game player for much of the season before the wrist flared up.
For players like Bouchard, Crosby or the others who perhaps sustained head injuries and didn’t tell anyone, this year away from the game couldn’t come at a better time. The opportunity to focus on recovery without fear of any stigma has the potential to not only add years to their NHL careers, but ultimately improve their quality of life as they age.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard turns 29 in April — just 29! — and, when the NHL eventually returns, he’ll have the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Devon Setoguchi or Mikael Granlund in a reinvented Minnesota lineup. Around the league there will be plenty of other players who feel much better for their time away and will have a new lease on life.
There are your lockout winners and your daily dose of optimism.