Cases of Lapperiere, Leighton, and Pronger Raise Questions

Nicholas DobrowolskiContributor IOctober 9, 2010

Ian Laperriere may be forced to retire due to lingering symptoms of post-concussion syndrome
Ian Laperriere may be forced to retire due to lingering symptoms of post-concussion syndromeJim McIsaac/Getty Images

“Know your limits, Master Wayne.”
“Batman has no limits.”
“Well you do, sir.”
“Well, can’t afford to know ‘em.”

This is an exchange that takes place between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth in the major motion picture, The Dark Knight. You remember, don’t you? It’s near the beginning of the film right after Batman, played by Christian Bale, fends off a pack of dogs, imposters, gangsters, and the Scarecrow played by Cillian Murphy. The scene at the beginning gets a few laughs because this little back-and-forth takes place just moments before:

“Did you get mauled by a tiger?”
“It was a dog.”
“It was a big dog.”

Now what does any of this have to do with hockey and specifically the Philadelphia Flyers you ask? Well, it’s simple: everything anymore.  The Flyers are a tough team. They have a history of being tough. They get tough players to play a tough game, in a tough league full of tough guys. As fans, we give standing ovations to guys like Ian Laperriere for taking a puck in the face, skating away after getting up from pool of his own blood, only to come and play a few weeks later. Twice. We cheered when Leighton came off the bench after being sidelined for six weeks by a high-ankle sprain to replace Brian Boucher when he went down in a horrifying manner, only to continue Boucher’s game five shutout against the Boston Bruins and then go onto win a series he and the team had no business winning. Chris Pronger fell awkwardly in the Devils series and hurt his knee, but it didn’t bother him as he was just as good as ever almost the whole way through that historic run.

Toughness is a quality that we not only respect, but expect from players who don the Orange and Black. We label them heroes. Just like Batman. This mentality however, raises questions. Not questions like: “What does a movie like the Dark Knight have to do with hockey is actually?” Rather: “When is enough, enough?”

This becomes extremely pertinent when talking about the three aforementioned guys who were absolutely integral to the Flyers at season’s end last year, and season’s start this year. And right now, none of them are playing. None of them disclosed any lingering issues from the injuries they sustained during that run to the medical staff and now, they’re all paying for it in different ways.

In Laperriere’s case, he probably never should have stepped back onto the ice last season after he took that second puck to the face, but he couldn’t stand the idea of sitting out because of a headache or two or three. Had Laperriere sat out, would he have killed that powerplay on which the Penguins potted their second goal?

In Leighton’s case, he probably came back too soon after sitting out six or so weeks even though he was arguably the Flyers’ biggest asset, behind Pronger and Danny Briere maybe, during the post-season last year. Leighton’s back issues are seemingly unrelated to the ankle, but he might have hurt it because he couldn’t get good push off his bad leg and had to play of a standup style than he was used to. Would Leighton have started in that first game in the Consol Energy Center instead of Sergei Bobrovsky?

Pronger couldn’t have afforded to take any time off last year because without him, the Flyers never would’ve gotten anywhere near the second round, let alone the Stanley Cup Finals, as they were playing most games with only four defensemen. But had Pronger had a chance to heal, maybe his knee wouldn’t have flared up over the summer and might he have helped a certain rookie goaltender to his first shutout in his first start in the NHL?

Will the Flyers have a less than stellar penalty kill without a guy like Laperriere? Will the moves Paul Holmgren made over the summer be able to carry the team or give guys like Pronger and Kimmo Timonen a break, or will they still have to play 30-35 minutes a night come playoff time? Does Leighton’s omission hurt the team because they might not have as much confidence in guys like Bobrovsky or Boucher? Does Leighton sitting out a considerable amount of time end up ruining Bobrovsky because as he starts to falter and subsequently loses confidence which he never regains, the team trades him or demotes him?

These are all questions nobody knows the answers to.

Possible? Yes.

Reality? No.

There will be more questions without answers around the league as the year goes along, too. There certainly were last year like David Booth and Marc Savard that still don’t have answers. Hockey isn’t the end of the world. It’s not the most important thing in the universe. At the end of the day, the fact is: it’s just a game. With that said, I think it’s a shame that these guys have to try to live up to ridiculous standards just because they’re paid millions of dollars and it’s a really tough sport for tough guys.

I’m sure most people are with me when I say I wish all of the players listed above a full recovery, but I also think that we, the fans, and they, the players, should give a little breathing room in the future. I’m not saying that we should take the hitting out of the game, and that guys shouldn’t play through little injuries. I definitely admire them all for their courage and their play last year, but I also would have admired them for sitting out if they had to because I think it takes even more guts to know when you just shouldn’t go out there, no matter what is on the line. The point is we all have to make choices in our lives. Some of them will be good, some of them will be bad, but hopefully they will not be life threatening.

I’ll leave you with the most memorable quote, in my mind, from the Dark Knight. This line was delivered by Aaron Eckhart portraying Harvey Dent and I think, although it’s almost too fitting for this piece, it’s also something, just like what I’ve written above, to ponder:

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

-Quotes taken from The Dark Knight, written by Jonathan Nolan and directed by Christopher Nolan