2011 NHL All-Star Game: Does Sidney Crosby's Absence Have Any Deeper Impact?

Erik PaulCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2011

Does Sidney Crosby's absence from the All Star Game have any deeper impact? The short answer is absolutely not.

The game is essentially meaningless, and even the most die hard Crosby fans couldn't care less that he isn't taking part in the inconsequential exercise in scoring.

The long answer is that it's a very tough question to answer. While Crosby missing the game itself doesn't really matter, why he's missing it is a serious problem.

Part of the All-Star Weekend is an NHL Board of Governors meeting, and largely because of Crosby's absence, a key point of discussion has been concussions.

At the last annual general manager's meetings on March 30, 2010, the general managers drafted the new head shot rule. Rule 48 gives referees the ability to call a major penalty and game misconduct for any "lateral, back pressure or blindside hit" where the principal point of contact is the head.

Since then, the number of concussions hasn't dropped, but some GMs, such as Mike Gillis of the Vancouver Canucks, believe the rule is having the desired effect. Gillis says there have been situations where players haven't hit other players in vulnerable positions.

Toronto's GM Brian Burke feels that concussions are just part of the game and the only reason a focus is on it is because Crosby has a concussion.

Whatever the reason that the focus has shifted to concussion prevention, it is definitely for the best. Fans around the league spend a significant amount of money to go to games, and players like Crosby and Marc Savard being on the sidelines brings down the quality of the game.

There will always be injuries in hockey, but concussions can have the most severe impact on a player. While the impact in terms of effectiveness on the ice is terrible, what's severely worse is the impact on a player's quality of life while concussed, and after his playing days are over.

If you've had concussions, you know the feeling of constant, excruciating headaches, blurred vision, short-term memory loss, and blood rushing to your head every time you stand up too fast. It's hard to focus on something as simple as reading a book, and light or noise can send shots of pain throughout your head.

Concussions have already forced several players out of the NHL, and the most outspoken about it has been Keith Primeau, former Red Wing, Whaler, Hurricane and Flyer. Primeau suffered multiple concussions during his 15-year career, and now, at just 39-years-old, still can't work out or elevate his heart rate without getting lightheaded.

Primeau has committed to donate his brain to the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) and Boston University, upon his death, to help with the research on concussions. Recently, SLI has discovered, from the brains of deceased athletes who had suffered multiple concussions, that concussions can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a disease that causes a toxic protein, called tau, to spread throughout the brain leading to severe depression, dementia or ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease). Of the 10 SLI Legacy Donors, seven died at age 46 or younger while suffering from CTE. Currently, the only way to diagnose CTE is by dissecting the brain after death.

While the research on concussions is still lacking definitive, conclusive findings on exactly how the severity of concussions correlates to CTE, and if other factors, cause a worsening of concussion symptoms, the early findings are that concussions can cause devastating, long-lasting consequences.

With the findings of concussion research becoming ever-worse, can anyone with a conscience really make the argument that head shots should not be completely banned from the NHL?

As a hockey fan, can you honestly say you want to see that huge hit, even if it causes the player being hit to suffer brain damage, and eventually dementia and death?

I'm not saying that hitting should be taken out of the game. I love hockey because it's fast, hard-hitting, and more entertaining than any other sport in the world, but I'm sick of seeing star players out of action because of hits to the head.

Marc Savard is currently suffering and contemplating retirement. Peter Mueller, Matthew Lombardi, Andy McDonald, Paul Kariya, David Perron and Ales Hemsky are all out. And, the best player in the league is missing the All Star Game. And it's all because of concussions.

It's time for the league to institute a ban on head shots. Accidental or intentional, stars or AHL call-ups, all head shots need to be punished. If it's accidental, call at least a minor penalty. If it's clearly intentional, then long suspensions need to be handed down.

It's not a matter of removing the odd hit from the game anymore; it's a matter of the players being able to live long, healthy lives, without suffering from the effects of concussions.

It's time for the NHL to protect their players and make it happen.