SUN Hockey Pool

Bergeron in dark on concussion issue

Boston Bruins' center Patrice Bergeron. (QMI Agency files)

Boston Bruins' center Patrice Bergeron. (QMI Agency files)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:08 AM ET

As a survivor of one of the worst concussions suffered by an NHLer in recent memory, Patrice Bergeron would love to offer up a solution that would bring the rash of head injuries throughout the National Hockey League to a screeching halt.

Maybe they should slow the game down, as some have insisted, by reintroducing the centre-ice red line.

Maybe anyone delivering any head shot, blindside, accidental or otherwise, should be slapped with a stiff suspension.

Maybe they should simply take all hitting out of the game.

In recent weeks, all these suggestions have been offered up in the wake of the recent flood of concussions. In fact, a report on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday indicated up to $87 million US in salaries are sidelined right now because of head injuries.

For Bergeron, who just four years ago wondered if he would ever again lead a normal life, let alone return to hockey, it would be easy to agree with any one of these concepts.

But he can’t. Because, in Bergeron’s opinion, there is no black-and-white answer when it comes to concussions and head injuries.

Instead, this issue is fuzzy, much like his head was four years ago.

“Right now, it’s been a hot topic, especially for the past three weeks, ” the Bruins forward said in a phone interview. “But, to be honest, it’s tough to prevent and almost impossible to avoid.

“The new rules help. And I know they are working on better equipment. I’ve heard that they are working on improvements for shoulder pads, elbow pads. That’s important. It’s good that the modern day equipment protects you, but, with some of those things, it hurts even more when you get hit by them.

“I think they are working on improving helmets, too. I know they did a lot of work and development on helmets in football. It’s a different sport, sure, but it’s a physical game like ours.

“The bottom line is, players are bigger and faster than ever before.”

Bergeron does not back the concept of bringing back the red line.

“My first season in the league, the red line was still there,” he said. “Then, after the lockout, they took it out. To be honest, I think (its removal) improved the game. In fact, I can honestly say I like the game without the red line.”

Sure, the lack of the red line increases the pace of the game, making impacts and collisions potentially more dangerous. But it’s a tradeoff Bergeron is willing to make.

And if anyone knows the risks involved, it’s Bergeron.

Crushed head-first into the TD Garden boards by Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Randy Jones on Oct. 27, 2007, an unconscious Bergeron was carted off on a stretcher.

For several weeks, he had to sit in a dark room, unable to do simple everyday tasks such as watching TV or getting up and walking into the kitchen.

He was one of the lucky ones in that he recovered fully.

Four years later, Bergeron looks around the league at the amount of talent sidelined by head injuries and hopes they can rebound like he did. That goes for all of those whose careers are in limbo from such ailments.

Sidney Crosby. Mike Richards. Kris Letang. Marc Staal. Claude Giroux. Chris Pronger. Jeff Skinner. Milan Michalek. Andy McDonald. Brayden Schenn. For the most part, it reads more like the roster of an all-star team than a list of players suffering from head injuries.

On Saturday afternoon, in a 6-0 Bruins victory over host Philadelphia, Bergeron watched yet another player suffer a potential concussion when Flyers rookie Sean Couturier was nailed in the head with a puck. Couturier was immediately taken to hospital to undergo tests.

“It’s taken a long time for us to tweak things without affecting the game,” Bergeron said. “We have such a great game, a great sport.

“I just don’t think there is one answer that will solve this problem.”

If anyone would know, it’s Patrice Bergeron.

MORE MIGHT BE MERRIER

Would 20 playoff teams be overkill?

Not according to Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford, who re-iterated his case for such a format during a conversation the other day.

Under a proposal tabled by Rutherford and colleague Ken Holland at the board of governors meeting two weeks ago at Pebble Beach, the top 12 teams would automatically get first-round byes. Teams 13-20 would then face off against in each other in opening-round three-out-of-five series.

It is a concept Rutherford has publicly been beating the drums for all month.

“The same percentage of teams would make the playoff (66% — 20 of 30) as did back in the Original Six where four teams made it,” Rutherford said. “We’d shorten the pre-season. It would be exciting.”

SABRES PRES SENDS A SIGNAL

How might the takeover of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment by communications giants Rogers and Bell affect the Buffalo Sabres down the road?

It’s a question that Sabres president Ted Black finds intriguing.

Black would love to see Buffalo fans across the border in Fort Erie and the Niagara Peninsula have the ability to watch the team’s regular television broadcasts of the Sabres games. Of course, because it is in a different country where Sportsnet, TSN and CBC primarily control hockey rites and where television regulations are different from those in the U.S., that in itself remains a challenge.

“I don’t know if the Leafs sale is a positive or a negative for us,” said Black, who is aware that Rogers and Bell are the parent companies of Sportsnet and Rogers, respectively. “It shouldn’t really affect our territory of 50 miles.

“We’ve been trying to get (broadcast carriage) over there in the (Niagara region). We’ve had talks.

“Either way, we have to do a better job of relating to our fans across the border in Canada. In that regard, I’m not proud of the job we’ve done there to date. If we can’t get more games on TV there, we need to be more present there.”

Black hopes to chat with the new MLSE owners in the not-so-distant future.

Interestingly, there has been speculation on the web that the Rogers-Bell marriage might make it more conducive for a second team in the GTA because the two media giants could figure out a workable model for the television rights.

Whatever happens, you can bet Ted Black will be monitoring it.

The notion never really gained steam with the BOGs. But it’s an interesting idea to chew on, one that certainly would stir up interest in markets where, frankly, fans feel their teams have no chance.

ZIZE'S PRIZES

1. To Leafs Nation

A reality check involving the Eric Staal trade rumours

Don’t buy those blue-and-white Eric Staal jerseys quite yet. The suggestion that the Leafs will acquire him at the conclusion of the Brian Burke Christmas trade freeze first came from former NHL executive Bill Watters, one of the most credible sources around. But Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford was quick to refute any such idea, claiming Staal would not be traded. Only time will tell.

2. To Shea Weber

A badge for marksmanship

This past week, the Nashville Predators captain scored a goal in practice. No big deal. Only in this case, he shot the puck from the far-end concourse at Bridgestone Arena. The puck went over the protective netting behind the near goal, landed on the ice near centre and curved right into the net at the far end. Now THAT is a big deal. Give that man a kewpie doll.

3. To the top 60 prospects on Craig Button’s 2012 draft list

A collective pat on the back

Button, the long-time hockey executive and one of the most respected judges of talent in the game, ranks Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov No. 1 and Swedish winger Filip Forsberg No. 2 at this time. Only one tier 2 player made the list, that being forward Devin Shore (59th) who plays for Whitby. Good luck to all.


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