3:30 pm: When John Tavares was helped off the ice by trainer Garrett Timms late in the first period and the Islanders did not provide an injury update by the end of the first intermission, you knew this was not merely a bruise or a sprain. It was far worse.
Nothing – not even a major shoulder separation – compares to the danger of a head injury. It makes you wonder, after all these years, why teams like the Islanders still use the term “mild” concussion. Of course, there are varying grades of severity. But why not wait until complete recuperation and, should the player return to the lineup within a week, then detail to your fans why in this case he was back on his feet quicker than Kenny Jonsson or Marc Savard or Justin Morneau?
Tavares cannot come back a moment, a day, a week too late. Never mind that he symbolizes hope for the franchise, and second place in the Q ratings currently isn’t very close. He is 20 years old. Until Saturday, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft did not have a history of concussions. Now he does.
If the Islanders’ medical team decides on Monday that Tavares’ symptons are mild enough for him to return to the lineup next Saturday at home against the Avalanche, they should tack on at least another week. There isn’t anything that could happen in upcoming road games in Toronto, Tampa Bay and Florida that Tavares can alter by himself.
In the league where everyone gets points, and a team has to have either miserable goaltending (see NYI, 2008-09) or defense (Oilers, 2009-10) to be out of the playoff hunt by Christmas, the Islanders may lose some of these games, but not enough to wreck their season. There’s a reason I picked the Islanders to finish over .500 this season – to the laughter of many. Last night proved it. (Note to Frans: change it up, buddy).
I remember the last game of Brett Lindros. The team was in Buffalo and big Brett barely got bumped by one of the Sabres. After the game, I was told he had just suffered the last concussion he’ll ever get in a hockey game. I remember Kenny Jonsson, as warm a gentleman and as intelligent a player as this franchise has ever had, going weeks not even looking like himself.
Ten months ago, Rick DiPietro began a rehabilitation assignment in Bridgeport for a knee injury that prematurely ended his 2007-08 season and limited him to just five games in ’08-09. DiPietro played a grand total of 199 minutes as a Sound Tiger with an .883 save percentage before he was brought back to the Islanders. He played eight games in the NHL before his knee forced him to shut it down again.
This is what can happen when an organization can’t wait to see one of its favorite sons playing another hockey game. And that’s only a knee, not a head with so many vital parts.
Katie Strang of Newsday reported from practice today that Scott Gordon said Tavares is feeling fine, other than a sore neck. That’s the best news the Islanders could get from this weekend, even more than two points over the rival Rangers on Columbus Day. But what Mike Johnson said on “NHL on the Fly” last night should stick. “When you’re not expecting to get hit,” said Johnson, “that’s when you’re the most vulnerable.” You better believe Tavares is not playing Monday; he shouldn’t play the rest of the week, either.
Tavares’ concussion may indeed be mild, relatively speaking. Still, an optimistic diagnosis should not be enough to give the young man his uniform back in a week. If all goes well – everything at every level of the game and the operation and the business and the real estate – John Tavares is going to play more than 1,000 games as a New York Islander. I would not expect the franchise to care about a few in October.
Notes: Do not expect Adam Burish, who hit Tavares, to be suspended by the NHL…With Tavares out for the Rangers, Michael Grabner could join the lineup one game ahead of schedule. Katie reported that Josh Bailey centered the first line at practice today, while Grabner took Bailey’s spot at left wing.
Jim Cerny, the former Islanders radio play-by-play announcer who know writes for the Rangers, believes the visitors will field the same lineup for Columbus Day as they did in their impressive win in Buffalo on Saturday. Chris Drury will miss at least one more game.
If the 3,000 empty seats at the Islanders’ home opener Saturday were any indication, plenty of seats are still available for Monday’s rivalry revival. Not every adult has off from work on Columbus Day. This will also be the Rangers’ first game this season in the metropolitan area.
Justin Bourne and I are the guests on The Hockey Writers Show tonight at 6:00 pm ET. Details are here.
Comments related to this post and Monday’s game are welcomed.