By Stu Hackel
David Perron has the potential to be exactly what the St. Louis Blues need: an exciting, high-scoring winger who can create and finish scoring plays. He hit the 20-goal mark in his third NHL season at 21 years old, and last season had five goals in his first 10 games as the Blues went 7-1-2.
Perron was concussed in his 10th game on a blindside hit by the Sharks' Joe Thornton and the Blues were never quite the same again. They missed the playoffs and Perron missed the rest of the season. Now the word out of St. Louis is that he won't be ready for training camp and that's just not good news.
Perron's plight hasn't gotten the attention some other more well-known concussion victims (like Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard) received, but his injury was no less devastating and it seems to have had a larger impact on his team. It has served as a flashpoint for how the NHL sometimes negatively reacts to change, although this incident certainly played a role in the league recognizing the need to make Rule 48 stronger for next season.
And Perron's situation also serves as an important reminder of why concussions are so insidious, because every one is different and they sometimes can be very difficult, if not impossible, to immediately detect and diagnose.
Here's the play last Nov. 4 that did the damage:
Thornton got a major and a game misconduct for violating Rule 48. Perron returned to the game, scored a goal, and gave this interview after the game:
The accusation that Perron was faking an injury echoed from the Sharks to their fans to various TV commentators and even the NHL Network's On The Fly panel. But Thornton was suspended for two games, which was appealed by the Sharks. The league denied the appeal.
The incident remained one of the more contentious applications of Rule 48 last season, as the Sharks vehemently criticized the decision by Mike Murphy of NHL Hockey Operations (with Thornton contending to ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun that Perron "kinda ran into me." Sharks GM Doug Wilson publicly insisted that the league's ruling was not consistent with similar hits that had been deemed legal. Sharks broadcaster Jamie Baker lambasted Thornton's punishment in a blog post, writing that because of the rule, "I have to believe that players are going to fake head injuries whenever there is contact from now on." Thornton's agent brother, John, told LeBrun, "I guess being 5-foot-9 was Joe's only solution to avoid this suspension. Blues President John Davidson told Dan O'Neil of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that while Thornton is not a dirty player he still crossed the line. Davidson added his outrage that anyone would question whether Perron was really hurt or not.
Perron started feeling headaches while preparing for the Blues' next game, against Boston, and was scratched from the lineup. Things seemed to be improving in January...
...but he was thwarted by setbacks when he tried to exercise, and according to Jeremy Rutherford in The Post-Dispatch, that seems to have been an ongoing pattern. Perron hasn't been able to resume light workouts without symptoms and he's certainly nowhere near getting into shape for hockey.
"He hasn't lifted weights yet or trained since the injury," Blues GM Doug Armstrong told Rutherford. "Not only is he going to have to get his skating legs back, he's going to have to get his body back in NHL shape. With that is going to come his puck skills, his hands and timing. There's going to be a process that he's going to have to go through once he does get medically cleared to do the physical training."
The Wild's Pierre-Marc Bouchard missed a year-and-a-half with postconcussion symptoms before he could return to the lineup last season, so an extended absence may be needed before Perron is clear of aftereffects. For him and the Blues, that can't happen soon enough, but everyone recognizes that his recovery will all proceed along some unknown timetable now.
Testing, testing: The NHL's Research, Development and Orientation Camp starts two weeks from today -- Aug. 17 -- in Etobicoke, Ontario and Lance Hornby in The Toronto Sun obtained the list of some of the new rules that will be tested by top prospects in the two-day lab. Some of them are new, some are second looks following their trials at last year's inaugural camp.
One of the more progressive tests will be removing the trapezoid from behind the net and allowing the goalie to play the puck everywhere below the icing line. We've never liked the idea that a goalie should be penalized for having the skill to play the puck effectively. The whole idea of the trapezoid rule was to encourage teams to dump the puck in and retrieve it and not have the goalie shoot it right back out again. But it had unintended consequences from a safety standpoint because now that defenseman can't legally hold up onrushing forwards, some of the violent collisions, especially hits from behind, have occurred on races for the puck that the goalie could previously have played. Changing the rule has the potential to decrease those situations.
There are also some tests that would result in regressive proposals, like bringing back the two-line offside pass and the "bear-hug" rule that would effectively legalize clutching and grabbing by defenseman along the boards, although that is being positioned as a safety measure, too.
Another experiment will be making hand passes legal everywhere on the ice, not just in the defensive zone. We're not a big fan of that one. This should be a stick-and-puck game as much as possible -- that's the game's primary skill.
One interesting new ideas is that the referees will work with headsets so they can communicate with each other during play, and it might help alleviate those always-controversial instances when a trailing referee calls an infraction while the ref closer to the play does not.
Among the rules from last year that will be getting another look are hybrid icing (a mix of touch and no-touch), shallow nets to create more room, and gradually reducing overtime manpower from 4-on-4 to 2-on-2. Others include no line changes after an offsides for the offending team and no line changes at all during stoppages (only on the fly). When a team encroaches on a face-off, their center will be forced to move a foot back from the dot, which greatly reduces his chance of winning the draw. (A new variation on that would allow the other team to select a player from the other team to take the draw.)
From these experiments, new rule proposals could emerge and be considered by the GMs. Nothing that passes and gains approval from the Competition Committee and the Board of Governors would go into effect until the 2012-13 season.
White out: The Devils have bought out both Trent Hunter, who they recently got from the Isles in exchange for Brian Rolston, and 33-year-old defenseman Colin White, a fixture on two Stanley Cup teams in New Jersey. Dropping White was apparently a tough decision for GM Lou Lamorieillo. White, a second-round choice by the Devils in 1996, had been in the organization since he was a teenager. Lamoriello characterized the move as a business decision, and the combined jettisoning of Rolston/Hunter and White left the Devils with nearly $6 million in cap space, according to CapGeek.com.
White was plagued by leg injuries last season and he's never been particularly mobile to begin with. But he's as rugged a customer as there is in his own zone. There's little doubt he'll hook up with someone. David Pollak of The San Jose Mercury News blogs that the Sharks are in the hunt for White, and Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record tweeted that White's agent said he's already got a deal somewhere that will be announced shortly.
Sure enough, the Sharks announced White has just signed a one-year deal in San Jose.