With the hockey season just a few weeks away, a star player such as Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins can only wonder about the future he will have in the National Hockey League. Although no one can predict his long-term future with certainty, his chances of returning to the ice for the start of this season do not look good.
Crosby, who suffered heavy hits to his head in two games early in the new year, has experienced post-concussion symptoms. For his long-term health, Crosby's doctors want him to be completely free of any symptoms before he plays competitively again. Who knows when that will be?
This type of diagnosis would be regrettable for any player, and it is particularly regrettable for Crosby, his team and all hockey fans. Crosby, after all, was the best player in the league when he was injured. Despite missing half the last season, he still ended up 32nd in the points standing in a league with more than 800 players.
Crosby's accomplishments are formidable. He led his team to the Stanley Cup in 2009 and then the next year he scored the winning goal to help Canada win gold at the Vancouver Winter Games. With the way things are going, it's possible Crosby could go down, along with Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky, as one of the greatest of all time. Crosby is only 24, which makes the severity of his head injury particularly regrettable.
For reasons that defy logic, the National Hockey League has never taken head injuries as seriously as it should. The NHL did introduce tougher penalties for hits to the head after Crosby was injured, but the league has still not gone far enough. League officials might even ask themselves why a star has to be injured before they make some rule changes. League officials might also wonder why Crosby was allowed back onto the ice after he was first hit in the head, and why he was back on the ice for the next game.
Of course, hockey is a rough game and it will never be completely risk-free, but surely players shouldn't have to take the risks they have been expected to accept. Even if Crosby does become symptom free, he may not be quite as good as he was previously. A player who receives two devastating hits might lose at the very least a small amount of his self-confidence, and that loss might be the difference between a truly great player and one who is simply very good.
The National Hockey League needs to take a closer look at its rules.