Chronicle |  Three years ago, Alex Ovechkin hit Jonathan Drouin

Chronicle | Three years ago, Alex Ovechkin hit Jonathan Drouin

Every day I am lucky enough to receive several emails from fans and witnesses who, thanks to their expertise or fine observations, push reflections further and enrich all kinds of debates. In this perspective, the email François Pilon sent me this week probably should have won an award.

Mr. Pilón, who seems to have an excellent memory, recalled hearing me talk a few years ago about a scientific study published in October 2018 in The Neurotrauma Journal (New window).

The conclusions of this work, which I wrote and commented on at the time, sent chills down my spine.

This study notably revealed that players treated according to the NHL’s concussion protocol have a 64.1% risk of leaving the league three seasons later. In the case of the unconcussed, it is almost the other way around. The latter have a 58.3% chance of still holding a place in the league after three seasons.

The authors of this study, eight American orthopedists and one anesthesiologist, also noted that, on average, players treated by the concussion protocol no longer play in the NHL 2.1 seasons later.

In short, a concussion has a very high risk of ending an NHL hockey player’s career.

Readers of this column first heard about this study in late October 2019.

At the time, I used it to draw attention to the fact that Paul Byron could become one of the many cases mentioned in the study.

On March 26, 2019, CH’s dynamic forward suffered a concussion while throwing gloves with McKenzie Weegar of the Florida Panthers.

Paul Byron knocked out by Mackenzie Weegar.

Photo: Canadian Press/Matt Garies

And Byron had become unrecognizable after returning to the game.

By the way, this event happened three years ago and Paul Byron will probably never play in the NHL again.

The Paul Byron Affair

  • Concussion on March 26, 2019
  • Injured age: 29 years
  • The previous year, Byron played in 72.3% of his team’s games and averaged 0.55 points per game.
  • After March 26, Byron played 59.6% of CH’s games and averaged 0.32 points per game.

So this week, François Pilon wrote to me to formulate a very interesting hypothesis: doesn’t the case of Jonathan Drouin fit even more perfectly with the conclusions of this famous study?

Before getting hit by Ovechkin on Nov. 15, 2019, and being placed on the NHL’s concussion protocol, Jonathan Drouin had his best start to the season in the pro ranks. He had scored 7 goals and 8 assists in 17 games. The previous season, he had also matched his best career production with 53 points in 82 games.

However, since this impact, Jonathan Drouin is simply not the same player anymore.

Its performance has dropped considerably when it should normally be at its peak. He was wounded multiple times, including long after taking a simple shot to his crash helmet. And he had a well-documented bout of anxiety that kept him out of training for several months.

This season, Drouin has been dropped from the Canadiens’ roster three times. He still hasn’t scored, and on Wednesday night against the Canucks, he got what was his fourth scoring opportunity this season.

The case of Jonathan Drouin

  • Concussion on November 15, 2019
  • Injured age: 24 years (in full gear)
  • During the previous year, Drouin had played in 98.8% of the Canadiens’ games and averaged 0.66 points per game.
  • After this concussion, Drouin only played 45.3% of CH’s games and his average points per game dropped to 0.49.

But it is above all his production of goals that attracts attention. Including the playoffs, Drouin scored just 9 goals in 107 games after his concussion, nearly the same number as in the 17 games before his concussion.

The mental wounds, we don’t see themFrançois Pilon wrote to me.

I think criticizing Jonathan for not working hard enough or being afraid is wrong. Instead, I see a wounded young man.

If these observations and statistics don’t change the general perception of Jonathan Drouin’s performance or career path, probably no other argument ever will.

The cases of Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin are no exception. And clearly, the phenomenon highlighted by the study was not anecdotal.

It’s a butcher shop.

After receiving the e-mail from François Pilon, always bearing in mind the three-year deadline invoked in the study, I did a very cursory search for five other teams, and three more compelling cases quickly resurfaced.

The case of Bryan Little

  • Concussion on October 3, 2019 with the Winnipeg Jets.
  • Age of the injured: 31 years.
  • During the previous year, Little appeared in 98.9% of the Jets’ games and averaged 0.50 points per game.
  • After this concussion, Little played seven games in which he added two goals and three assists. Then his career came to an end.

The case of Michael Ferland

  • Concussion on October 30, 2019 with the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Injured age: 27 years
  • Over the previous two seasons, Ferland had played in 90.2% of his teams’ games (71 with Carolina and 77 with Calgary). He then he had accumulated an average of 0.55 points per game.
  • Following this concussion, Ferland attempted to return to play in two games in December 2019. He then participated in two playoff games in August 2020 in the health bubble established in Edmonton due to the pandemic. He never played in the NHL again.

The case of Sven Baertschi

  • Concussion on October 24, 2018 with the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Age of the injured: 26 years
  • In the previous three seasons, Baertschi had participated in 53 matches (2017-2018), 68 matches (2016-2017) and 69 matches (2015-2016). In short, he was a regular NHL player.
  • After this concussion, Baertschi returned to the game on December 29, 2018, after two months of recovery, but he was never the same player again. Thereafter, he only appeared in another 23 games in the NHL, 16 during the second half of the 2018-2019 season, another 6 in 2019-2020, and then only 1 in 2021-2022. He now plays in Switzerland.

In four days, therefore, it will be exactly three years since Alex Ovechkin inflicted his resounding check on Jonathan Drouin.

Ovechkin’s play went unpunished during the game despite the Capitals star’s skates leaving the ice before impact. From a reverse angle, it could also be seen that Drouin had been hit in the head by Ovechkin’s elbow or upper arm. And because he had jumped, Ovechkin had landed on Drouin, whose head had hit the ice hard.

This third anniversary is important because the authors of the study cited above clearly invoke the three-year period.

The way things are going, few people can predict what will happen to Jonathan Drouin next season.

And the way things are going, there’s still no one in the Players Association who will one day rise up to demand that the NHL come out of prehistory and end up properly protecting its athletes.

With each renegotiation of the players’ collective agreement, health and safety issues are pushed aside to make room for money issues.

And it does exactly what the study authors reported.

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