Blows to head 'the risk you take'

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:05 PM ET

You would hope the news about Bob Probert might change things.

Fat chance.

The fact the former NHL enforcer suffered brain damage after years of a steady diet of knuckle sandwiches is unlikely to change much, other than perhaps give today's headbangers a momentary twinge of apprehension.

Did the irrefutable evidence of the long-term damage steroids could cause deter some of baseball's biggest names from taking them? Nope.

Only the threat of being suspended, not dying an early death, changed that culture.

I'm guessing it will be the same in hockey. Fighters will duck and weave behind the "I won't be the one to be affected by dementia at 50" self-delusion.

The reality is there is too much of a financial stake for those guys. I'm sure many of today's fighters -- they are among the best-educated and most articulate athletes out there -- could find meaningful and well-compensated employment in another line of work, but something that will pay them better than $1 million a year?

The attitude is probably best summed up by Jared Boll of the Columbus Blue Jackets. No player has fought more than he has over the past four years -- 91 fights in the NHL.

"It's scary to think about how it could affect you down the road," Boll told the Columbus Post-Dispatch Friday after a scientific study showed that Probert, who died last year, had a degenerative brain disease.

"You know, that's part of how I fight. I take a lot of punches, it's part of my strategy. I have been doing it for years now, and it's the risk you take playing.

"You can say, 'I'm going to change the way I fight or not fight as much,' but that's my job and I can't really change it," he said.

Nope.

Only the league itself can do that.

HEAR AND THERE

Sadly, there is not much new to report in Pittsburgh Penguin captain Sidney Crosby's recovery from a concussion other than that his sister, a goaltender at Shattuck-St. Mary's, is also concussed. They attended a Lady Gaga concert in Pittsburgh together, along with Evgeni Malkin. Is that the best therapy for a brain injury? Trying to wrap your head around Lady Gaga's act? ... Crosby has missed 24 games now and the Penguins are 11-9-4 without him. The game is much worse off.

THE BUZZ

Goalie Craig Anderson is off to a sizzling start with the Ottawa Senators (4-2-0 in his first six games with a 1.16 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage going into Friday's game against the New York Rangers) and is boosting his value on the unrestricted free agent market. Keep in mind Anderson turned down a two-year extension offer from the Colorado Avalanche last summer worth a reported $7.5 million. While he struggled some in Colorado before the trade to the Senators, Anderson might make that decision to turn down the extension a good one if he keeps playing like this. There won't be much of a market for goalies, but Anderson is playing like he plans to make the most of it.

JUST SAYING

Some scouts scoffed at the Montreal Canadiens' acquisition of veteran defenceman Brent Sopel at the trade deadline -- "He has got nothing left," one told NHL Saturday -- but the Habs have killed 12 consecutive penalties since picking him up. Only defenceman Hal Gill averages more short-handed ice time per game than Sopel with the Habs right now. Obviously, Sopel isn't the only reason for the turnaround, but the Habs had given up eight goals in their previous 21 short-handed situations before his acquisition ... The Atlanta Thrashers, who looked so good for a playoff spot in December, have won in regulation time only three times since Dec. 21.

JUST WONDERING

Brendan Morrison was a late addition to the Calgary Flames, signing early in the season. Who could have seen his loss being a blow to the Flames? The extent of his knee injury is unknown. In one of the good stories this season, he wound up centring the top line and leading the club with a plus-13 ... How much must the Columbus Blue Jackets hate going to play in Nashville? They were cruising along there in the fight for a playoff spot and then went to the Music City and lost for the 16th consecutive time (0-11-5) there. They've dropped another two after that heading into Friday's game in Calgary.

THE LAST WORD

Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck, the latest victim of New York Islander Trevor Gillies, didn't pull his punch on Gillies' forearm to Clutterbuck's head. "The fact is he's only playing there because half their team's injured. There's no way that guy should be in the National Hockey League." He won't be, at least not for the next 10 games after he was suspended Friday. It should have been for the rest of the season. Who would miss him or his thuggery? Anybody?

CHECKING LINES WITH...

Zdeno Chara, defenceman, Boston Bruins

You've ridden the courses for the Tour de France and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. You make many of us lazy folk ill, okay? Doing anything else to keep busy? What's next?

"I always like following the major (sports) events. It won't be until I retire, but I'd like to go to the four majors in tennis, go to Wimbledon, Paris and Australia. I've been to see the U.S. Open. Maybe go see some F1 races. If I go to Australia, I'd like to go to New Zealand, too, and from Paris you can go to other places in Europe."

What will we find Zdeno Chara doing on an off night?

"My favourite thing is to go out with my wife, have dinner, maybe see a show or go to a movie. Spending time with my wife and daughter would be my favourite thing."

Seen any good movies lately?

"I saw one the other day. I think it was the first time in two years my wife and I went out to a movie. 'Just Go With It.'"

Rating?

"I'd give it five out of five. I liked it a lot. I had a good laugh. I was really skeptical, but it was such a good script. But maybe I thought that because I hadn't been to a movie in two years."

You still wear a Livestrong bracelet. Why?

"Just the meaning of the words. Live strong. They are such powerful words. It's about always doing the right thing and do what you believe. I've worn out six or seven of them."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

JONATHAN TOEWS

Captain Serious of the Chicago Blackhawks has put up some serious numbers over the last couple weeks. He is the hottest scorer in the league, with 13 points in his last seven games going into Friday.

JAMES NEAL

The winger acquired along with D Matt Niskanen from the Dallas Stars for D Alex Goligoski is off to a slow start with the Pens. He has no points and is minus-2 playing with Jordan Staal and Mark Letestu. He has just one goal in his last 15 games.

MATT NISKANEN

The "other guy" in the Penguins-Stars trade is off to a good start with Pittsburgh. He has a goal and an assist and is plus-2 in four games. He's also played better than 20 minutes in each of the last two games.

BIG GAMES

PITTSBURGH @ BOSTON

Saturday

We can hope it gets heated between these two teams who have a history of not playing nice.

WASHINGTON @ TAMPA BAY

Monday

Capitals needs this one to have any hope of running down the Bolts for top spot in Southeast.

BOSTON @ MONTREAL

Tuesday

Hasn't been pretty lately for the wee Habs against the Big, bad Bruins. Another beatdown?

MINNESOTA @ DALLAS

Friday

North Stars legacy game with both teams on the bubble in the Western Conference

GO FIGURE

97:50

The amount of ice time this season, in minutes and seconds, for New York Islanders forward Trevor Gillies. He has averaged 2:52 of ice time in the 33 games in which he has dressed this season. One minute and 20 seconds of that total ice time came on the power play. Pending his latest suspension, Gillies has racked up 664 minutes in suspensions and penalty minutes this season.

91

The number of saves goaltender Martin Gerber has made in three games with the Edmonton Oilers this season while facing 95 shots (.958 save percentage). He won all three games. For the bargain basement price of $500,000. So what must he have been thinking watching a guy like Brian Elliott get moved just before the trade deadline? That he's too good a bargain for the Oil, I guess.

6

The number of games in which New Jersey Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk has topped 25 minutes of playing time in a game in 29 games under Jacques Lemaire, including a high of 28:10 Jan. 22. He topped 25 minutes three times under John MacLean in 33 games. Kovalchuk has played less than 20 minutes three times under Lemaire; he saw less than 20 minutes under MacLean eight times.

20

The number of spots the Washington Capitals have fallen in the power-play rankings since Nov. 22. Through the first quarter of the season, the Capitals were 18-for-76 for a 23.7% efficiency and ranked fifth. Since then, they have gone 17-for-142 (11.97%) and going into Friday's games were ranked 25th overall at 16.1%. They had then number one power play in the NHL last season.


Videos

Photos