When it comes to injury disclosure, the NHL isn't the NFL
Calgary - Jim Vandermeer tugs off his right skate. But not easily. There is a shield of plastic jury-rigged over the laces and a cigarette-pack-sized wedge of foam taped directly to the foot.
Geez, what gives?
"Got stepped on in Los Angeles. Got cut."
Overhearing the conversation in the Calgary Flames dressing room, Adrian Aucoin, grinning, interjects.
"Hey, hey! Lower body! Lower body!"
The crack is good for a laugh because, as we all know, timing is everything.
And, to mixed reviews, the National Hockey League is into the second month of its new injury-disclosure policy.
In past winters, there had been no clear-cut guideline, which led to varying degrees of bluffing and hedging, not to mention cases of outright lying and, on occasion, jolts of honesty (which no one believed, anyway).
But in June, NHL general managers got together, nodded their tall foreheads, and unanimously voted through the following: "Clubs no longer are required to disclose the specific nature of player injuries. Clubs are, however, required to disclose that a player is expected to miss a game due to injury, or will not return to a game following an injury. Clubs are prohibited from providing untruthful information about the nature of a player injury or otherwise misrepresenting a player's condition."
In other words - no more fibbing.
The catch? No details, period, are mandatory.
"It was during playoffs," recalls Phoenix general manager Don Maloney, "and everyone thought, 'Why are we divulging the injuries?' There was a consensus. The directive was, all you have to say is if a player's out and give an estimate to when he's coming back. That's it."
The NHLPA, too, is on board.
So what's the big deal?
Well, when Sidney Crosby, arguably the planet's finest player, pulled himself from last month's tilt in Phoenix, the Pittsburgh Penguins refused to tell us why.
What was once restricted to the post-season - injuries being sorted by upper- and lower-body designations - is the regular-season norm in some markets.
Fans and reporters want more.
But the league's deciders - with Detroit Red Wings boss Ken Holland leading the way - declare that full disclosure leads to partially mended skaters being singled out for assault.
"I agree . . . because it's vital," says Aucoin. "If you know the opponent's weakness, you're going to go for it. I would definitely try to work guys over who have something wrong with them. You don't have to be dirty about it. It's not a matter of re-injuring a guy, it's just making it a tough night for him."
Asked if this practice - targeting - actually takes place, Calgary's old-school coach Mike Keenan manages to keep a straight face before uttering: "I would think that might be the case."
Jason Arnott is much less cryptic.
"You get retards who'll go after that injury," says the Nashville Predators captain, "which, I guess, is part of the game, but also kind of stupid. So hiding key injuries on key players? Probably a good thing."
Arnott, having recently returned from sick bay, makes an ideal case study.
Did his broken finger serve as a beacon for abuse?
"Oh yeah, yeah, yeah," says Arnott, looking down at his right hand and flexing it. "You get a little more attention when you first come back."
Ed Jovanovski, however, disputes that notion. At least, these days.
"I would like to think that the respect is in the game," says the Coyotes rearguard, "that if a guy's coming off a leg injury, guys aren't two-handing him to take his knee out."
Where does the fan fit into this debate?
The interests of those paying the freight should be significant.
"The fans' rights, I hold pretty high," says Flames forward Michael Cammalleri. "They're the reason that I have a job and you have a job. But I don't know . . . I'd have to give that one some more thought."
"Well, it's tough for the fans," he says. "But first and foremost, I want to protect my teammates and I want to win hockey games - so that kind of trumps everything. The fans will like me more for winning hockey games than for letting them know how I'm feeling."
The ruling, not surprisingly, has some media members frothing. Information, in this business, is currency.
Here is Newsday writer Greg Logan, fuming about the New York Islanders' refusal to reveal Rick DiPietro's injury: "If the Islanders continue to withhold detailed injury information from the media and their fans as a matter of club policy, then, I must institute a new personal policy of disregarding their intentionally misleading injury reports in favour of my own speculative reports."
Keenan insists that the issue isn't even hockey related - it boils down to an individual's right to privacy.
"I think it's the law," says Keenan, who, only minutes earlier, had ripped reporters for asking about Robyn Regehr's lower-body status. "If we really came down to it, we don't ever have to tell anyone about our medical history, because that's supposed to be protected by the constitution. I don't know why, at one time, we thought we should tell everyone in the world what's wrong with us as an athlete."
North America's most popular gambling commodity provides a striking contrast.
The National Football League enforces openness. Status reports for players - out, doubtful, questionable, probable - are required every week for each squad. Even practice participation - none, limited, full - is noted. Of course, the injuries themselves are reported. (The Canadian Football League has no policy.)
"I'm in football country," says Predators skipper Barry Trotz. "Me and (Tennessee Titans head coach) Jeff Fisher, we talk about this a lot. (NFL teams) have a week between games. But we play every second day. If a player misses one game, we might want to get him back in right away."
Meaning, if Shea Weber twists his left ankle Tuesday in Columbus and he plans to dress Thursday in Chicago, don't expect a press release.
"It protects the players, but in some ways it protects the fans," says Trotz. "If in Calgary, Jarome Iginla has a sore right shoulder, everyone's going to bump him in the right shoulder or punch him in the right shoulder, and they're going to have to take him out of the lineup - that's not good for the Calgary Flames, that's not good for the Calgary Flames' fans."
There's a strategic component to it, too.
Why offer the opposition an outline of your limitations?
"Like, if you've got a sprained wrist . . . you're not going to be shooting the puck," says Cammalleri. "Well, I don't want the other team thinking that I'm not a threat to shoot, you know what I mean?"
Nevertheless, many outfits haven't bothered to alter their approach.
With wall-to-wall video - you don't need a medical background to suss out Matthew Lombardi's problem area - and with social networking between players, there are few secrets.
And, now, fewer embellishments.
Like wooden sticks and line brawls, lying is being fazed out of the game.
Which, in a way, is a shame.
Who won't miss the comical "diagonal rule"? In which a sprained left ankle would be publicized as a sprained right shoulder, a bruised right knee as a bruised left wrist. The flu also served as a handy/fictional catch-all.
"Well, you media guys are good at speculating," says Jovanovski, chuckling, "so you can speculate even more now."
Heroic tales, however, are casualties of closed books.
Did a Calgary rookie really play on a broken foot against the Anaheim Ducks in the 2006 post-season? Did he actually fight through a wrecked shoulder the following spring against the Detroit Red Wings? Sorry. You'll never know.
Bob Baun's goal is legendary - and not because he overcame a "lower-body" injury.
"There's a Catch-22 . . . because there's some interesting stories that can come out of disclosing injuries," says Cammalleri. "That's the part that's not so great. It's kind of nice for the public to hear some stories. But maybe that's what you have to give up for (no) disclosure."