Scary Hit on Aleksander Barkov a Fresh Reminder That NHL Is Far Behind NFL Regarding Injury Info

    Did Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov suffer a concussion Monday? We don't know, because -- unlike in the NFL -- the NHL does not compel teams to say.

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Euphoria gave way to a sick sense of déjà vu for sports fans here and throughout South Florida Monday night.

    Just twenty months after Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a frightening head injury on national television that was so alarming it changed NFL policy, the town’s No. 1 hockey star took a disturbing headshot of his own in the biggest game in Florida Panthers history.

    NHL Concussion Policy Should Take a Page From NFL

    Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov left Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final midway through the third period Monday and did not return after taking a flying forearm shiver from Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl.

    Many Dolphins fans who saw the dirty hit to Barkov’s jaw — and the moments that followed, with the Panthers forward’s inability to get off the ice without assistance — had flashbacks to the fall of 2022.

    Tagovailoa, for those who don’t remember, was immobilized and hospitalized after suffering a frightening concussion in a national showcase game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

    That injury came just four days after Tua was cleared to return to the game shortly after slamming the back of his head on the field and demonstrating motor instability in a Dolphins win over the Buffalo Bills.

    That sequence of events ignited a national conversation about how seriously the NFL takes concussions, all these years after it’s been proven that they can contribute to CTE.

    MORE: How the 2022 Tua Tagovailoa Concussion Saga Is Still Impacting the NFL

    But compared to how the NHL handles head injuries, at least publicly, the Dolphins and the NFL were the picture of transparency.

    On Monday night, Barkov might have suffered a concussion. He might have broken his jaw. He might have done both.

    We simply don’t know, because Panthers coach Paul Maurice wouldn’t tell reporters postgame. And he wouldn’t tell reporters postgame because the NHL doesn’t make him.

    While the NFL and the other major sports have a comprehensive and forthcoming injury disclosure policy, the NHL acts as though we’re still in the 1980s.

    Maurice, one of the most thoughtful and engaging voices in the sport, barely uttered a word about his captain in his postgame news conference.

    The closest Maurice came to acknowledging Barkov suffered a significant injury was his response to a question about whether the player could have returned if the game’s outcome was still in doubt late.

    “There was 9:28 on the clock, I believe, in a 2-1 game. I’m not holding him.”

    An irritated Maurice said later when asked how he felt about the hit on Barkov:

    “This isn’t the Oprah Winfrey Show. My feelings don’t matter.”

    He’s right. Feelings don’t matter.

    But player health and safety — not to mention competitive integrity in sports betting — do.

    And when teams are not compelled by the NHL to reveal anything about an injury, whether it’s to the upper or lower body, it inevitably leads to suspicion and distrust from the public.

    Barkov almost certainly underwent a concussion evaluation. The league has a protocol in place that automatically pulls players who demonstrate obvious symptoms such as: lying motionless on the ice, balance problems, a blank or vacant look, and being slow to get up.

    Much like the NFL, the NHL’s protocol has a multistep return-to-play process for players who are concussed, with a suggested minimum timeline of a week.

    But here’s where the NHL falls short: That timeline is not at all ironclad. What’s more, there’s no unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant involved. The team doctor has sole discretion over Barkov’s prognosis.

    And if he plays in Thursday’s Game 3 — potentially with his jaw wired shut — there will be many who believe Florida rushed him back because of the stakes.

    That, of course, would be unfair to the Panthers if they indeed do everything by the book when it comes to Barkov’s health. But it’s also an unavoidable reality based on the culture of secrecy that has long been part of the NHL’s DNA.

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