According to multiple reports—including those by B/R’s own Kamal Panesar—Max Pacioretty could return to the Montreal Canadiens during the playoffs this year. His recovery from a severe concussion and a fracture in his fourth vertebrae has gone better than anyone could have hoped and he could be skating in contact practice in as little as three weeks.
With all the talk lately around not only this hit and injury, but also all concussions in general, the question is no longer "Will he recover?" but rather, "Should he come back this season if he is cleared to play?"
We have seen Eric Lindros—a promising star in the league in his day—have his career and production cut much shorter than it should’ve been by concussion after concussion. After eight known concussions, Lindros finally retired after playing only 760 games in 13 seasons in the NHL.
We’ve also seen—questions about his toughness aside—Sidney Crosby sidelined for two months and counting after two hard hits left him with a concussion. Crosby certainly hasn’t been too pressured by the organization to rush back onto the ice, as the Penguins understand the importance of his health to their future.
Montreal isn’t quite so lucky. Pacioretty is a good young forward, but he is not the talent that Crosby is, and is therefore maybe not as valuable to the Canadiens as an organization.
At the same time, Pittsburgh is in fourth in the Eastern Conference and only three points behind a Philadelphia team that has played two fewer games than the Penguins, but has been struggling of late.
Montreal, on the flip side, is hanging onto a No. 6 seed in the East with the potential to easily fall right down to the bottom as easily as it could steal the Northeast Division from Boston or the No. 5 seed from Tampa Bay. Regardless of where the Canadiens are seeded, Max Pacioretty was a part of their plan for the playoffs.
The rising-star left-winger had notched 14 goals and 24 points in his third season with the Canadiens when he was sidelined with the injury caused by the hit by Boston’s Zdeno Chara on March 8th.
Whether or not the hit was kosher has been debated to death. The end result was what looked like the end of Pacioretty’s season and possibly his career.
Now, with word from the Montreal camp that he could return for the playoffs, we have to think about what is best for this young man before we discuss what is best for his team.
First of all, his presence will not make them enough of a better team to warrant pressuring him back onto the ice like the Pens may start doing with Sidney Crosby (who is still out for the foreseeable future).
Secondly, Pacioretty is only 22 years old. He has a long career ahead of him. Sure, the concussion protocol and prevention is better now than it was when Lindros was around, but he has become the poster child for how to ruin your career and your brain by getting back out on the ice too soon.
Lastly—and I’ll leave you with this—the Canadiens are looking at being a No. 6 seed right now, and could meet those very same Boston Bruins who essentially took Pacioretty away from them. The bad blood was there between those two teams before his injury, but that playoff series has the potential to turn into a circus and a bloodbath as it is without Pacioretty playing in it.
If he comes back this season, especially in that series, some players could be afraid to hit him or play him physically for fear of injuring him again and incurring the wrath of the Canadiens, their fans or possibly even the league.
His injury could change how his opponents play around him, which ruins the game for fans. I guarantee that, whether he is at home or on the road, if he comes back this season, everyone will be holding his breath for that first hit, as I’m sure he will too.
The risk, in this case, doesn’t outweigh the reward.
Please, Montreal—I know you are pushing for a Stanley Cup title. I’m a Blackhawks fan and have been for 20 years, so I understand the desire you, your players and your fans have to win.
Please, use his injury as motivation for beating Boston and even for winning it all.
Just let Pacioretty rest and get healthy, let his opponents play the hard and fast hockey we all love and let him come back next season and for seasons to come to keep showing us how talented he is.
Don’t jeopardize all that and this kid’s health for one run for the Cup.