Paul Kariya has retired after 15 years in the NHL, citing post-concussion symptoms. A victim of multiple crushing blows throughout his career, Kariya took the entire 2010-2011 season off in an attempt to recover, but gave up the goat today.
Repeat blows to the head of a smallish, yet incredibly offensively gifted forward in his 30s, with the potential of an incredibly bright future shattered. For Bruins fans, this news hits a little too close to the heart.
As much as many Bostonians may want to see Marc Savard return to glory, some of Kariya's words hit hard, bringing in the reality of just what a concussion means to a hockey player as a person, a human being, rather than an entertainer. The parallels between the two players are eerie. Kariya took an entire season off last year after a blow to the head by the Sabres' Patrick Kaleta in December 2009, in an attempt to rehabilitate his brain. Savard came back and played a few games, he himself admits that it was probably a mistake.
"The thing that I worry about is that you’ll get a guy who is playing with a concussion, and he gets hit, and he dies at center ice. Can you imagine what would happen to the league if a guy dies at center ice?" Kariya said in an interview with the Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek.
The drop in Kariya's brain power between concussions is haunting, a drop that is echoed in Savard's statements about having short-term memory loss issues, headaches, and trouble concentrating. The fact is, even a minor concussion leaves you susceptible to another, worse one. You're at risk for Second Impact Syndrome, which is a usually fatal swelling of the brain that occurs when concussions are compounded. In cases where SIS doesn't result in death, the long-term effects are similar to traumatic brain injury.
Kariya is lucky. He had a fantastic career with multiple organizations and is pretty much beloved by the Anaheim Ducks' fanbase. He served as an Alternate Captain in St. Louis and had a successful time there, injuries aside. He finished his career with 402-587-989 totals in 989 games - exactly a point-a-game player over his 15 years in the NHL.
While Savard's numbers aren't quite as impressive, they're still above average. 207-499-706 totals in 807 regular season games over 13 seasons. And if he gets his name on the Stanley Cup, as Peter Chiarelli says the Bruins are lobbying to do - he'll have one accomplishment that Kariya was never able to manage. But Cups and points and frivolities aside, there's one thing that's more important than all else, and that's Savard's health.
"At some point, whether you play 10 or five or 20 years, you have to retire eventually - and no matter what you do afterward, you need your brain to be functioning," Kariya told the Globe and Mail.
Here's hoping Savard is listening. Could the Bruins use his production next season as they seek to defend their Stanley Cup Championship? Absolutely. Should they risk Savard's life to do so? Absolutely not.