NHL not convinced of fighting-CTE link
CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
|In addition to Boogaard, a study of the brains of late former NHL tough guys Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert by researchers at Boston University also revealed the presence of CTE. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency)
PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. - It was another sunny day here on the Monterey Penninsula, but the long shadow of late NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard was cast over the last day of meetings among NHL governors.
Boogaard, who died from an accidental combination of drugs and alcohol in the spring, has been in the news again with reports an examination of his brain revealed he had advanced Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain ailment related to Alzheimer's disease that is caused by repeated blows to the head.
Boogaard is credited with 61 regular-season fights in the NHL, according to hockeyfights.com.
In addition to Boogaard, a study of the brains of late former NHL tough guys Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert by researchers at Boston University also revealed the presence of CTE.
But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman warned Tuesday it's still too early in the research to link the CTE found in the brains of its late brawlers with fighting in the NHL.
I know. A bunch of you are going, "whaaaat?"
"Do you know everything that went on in their lives?" asked Bettman. "Were there other things going on which could also cause CTE? The data is not sufficient to draw a conclusion. Our experts tell us the same thing. You don't have a broad enough database to make that assumption or conclusion because you don't know what else these players might have had in common, if anything.
"With respect to what Boston University might find on the CTE, they are still looking at a very limited database and there is no control element because you have to look at everything that went on in a person's life before you can make a judgement as to what a brain may show when you open it up."
So, the NHL isn't admitting to a link between fighting and CTE.
I guess Bettman has a point about jumping to conclusions, but how long can you dodge and weave behind that shield?
Here's hoping we don't have any more tragedies like we had last summer and the next time they look at the brain of an ex-NHLer there aren't any signs of advanced CTE.
But how much evidence is it going to take to make the connection between fighting and CTE, at least from the NHL's standpoint?
It is a strange situation.
The people most affected -- the players -- aren't crying to have fighting eradicated.
And I can tell you, after talking to a few governors as they departed the meetings Tuesday, there is not one bit of momentum to change the rules about fighting in the NHL.
The men who divine the direction of fighting, who dictate its framework and place in the game, are satisfied with the status quo.
"Fighting is down and I think the league's position from hockey operations is this time around it seems to be regulating itself and policing itself," said Edmonton Oilers president Kevin Lowe. "I don't think there is going to be any changes and I think it would have to come from the players, really, to push that agenda. I don't think from management and hockey operations it's a position we want to see changed at this point.
"Over the years there has been a great deal of discussion about it, whether it's necessary, and I think enough hockey people believe that it is still necessary."
For those who understandably have difficulty making a distinction between headshots and a punch to the head in a fight, Bettman said the league sees a difference.
"I think it's obvious," he said. "It's different in terms of willing combatants, and whether or not it's unsuspecting, to start with."
So, as far as fighting as the great evil in the war on brain trauma, the NHL's public position is simple -- it's not buying it.
Not yet, anyway.
And somewhere within that shadow of Derek Boogaard, the grim truth lives: the two most involved parties in the issue of fighting in hockey -- the owners and players -- at this point apparently see no reason to do anything but live -- and die -- with the status quo.