Today, the San Jose Sharks held their annual locker room clean out after their first round exit against the Edmonton Oilers. Among all the quotes about their season, the injury report — as always — was the most interesting, or concerning (or both), depending who you are.
Of all the injuries listed, from Patrick Marleau‘s broken thumb to Tomas Hertl‘s broken foot, etc., we were all wondering what Jumbo Joe Thornton‘s injury was that kept him out for two playoff games. Well, we got our answer, and one that generated some talk on social media on whether or not a line between player sacrifice and player safety gets crossed far too often every year.
So, what did Jumbo play through? It was a torn MCL and ACL. Most fans, like me, would praise Thornton for being the warrior he is. However, there were a select few fans who took exception to me calling hockey players “tough”. Considering the tumultuous time that the NHL is in in regards to player safety, I think I ought to address that in this article.
First off, let me just say that while I praise Thornton’s courage in playing under such a serious injury, I can understand the negatives as well. I’ll talk about that in a bit. That said, the NHL has always had this “warrior” mentality. Owners count on their teams to win. Head coaches coach their teams to win games. In the regular season, sure, you would rest certain players and put injured guys on IR. The playoffs, though, are a different animal. It’s all the black-and-blue stuff you see in the regular season times 10, or even 20. Those guys freakin’ play out there because they love to play the game and they hate to be out of the lineup, but it gets really physical.
Like I said, I admit that sometimes it goes a little too far. Like, Jumbo’s injury? There is no way in HELL the Sharks management should have allowed him to play with a torn ACL and MCL. Peter DeBoer even said Thornton’s knee was “floating around”. So, I have no idea how the hell Thornton even got the OK to play. That said, you’re not going to stop a guy like Joe Thornton, who hates to miss games. Do hockey players like him go too far with this whole sacrificial thing in the playoffs? Yeah, maybe. I mean DeBoer also said he’s seen very few guys willing to take chances like Thornton did. But, again, this is the reality of the NHL and it goes back to the “warrior” mentality. Everyone has it.
It’s like the issue of fighting in hockey. While fighting has gone down significantly in the league, the NHL still faces a ton of scrutiny in the concussion lawsuit against them. The only thing is you’re not going to change the attitude, and that’s something I can understand some fans being upset about. Most fans aren’t, however, because let’s face it. Most of us fans, the coaching staff, teams, and just the league in general are huge collective parts of the problem in their own right. There’s all this talk about player safety and, as if the Department of Player Safety doesn’t screw up the decisions enough, players go out there on the ice and lay essentially their lives on the line. I mean, that’s legit what happens especially when they suffer through a real bad injury.
Are they smart enough to know how to take care of themselves. Most would argue yes. Some would argue no. But, at the end of the day, hockey’s a contact sport. Injuries have always been a part of sports, but they’ve also been ever so prevalent in our sport. That’s what it all boils down to. Not player safety, again, as much as we all love harping on how players aren’t protected. That’s the problem that this league has, and it’s not going away any time soon.