Red Wings, the NHL, and Concussions in Hockey


The Detroit Red Wings Johan Franzen is 35 years old. He has played in the National Hockey League for ten seasons. Franzen has also had numerous concussions in his playing career. His latest head injury kept Franzen off the ice for eight months and brought him to a dark part in his life.

However this season will see a return to the ice after his doctors cleared him for contact, but is it really safe?

The National Hockey League and former players have had an ongoing battle about concussions. It is a lot like what the National Football League and their former players were and still at times going through. However while the NFL is making steps forward to make things better, the NHL seems to not want to.


"“While recent signals suggest plaintiffs are anxious to begin settlement discussions (similar to what transpired in the NFL), we have indicated to them no desire to engage in such discussions, primarily because we feel so strongly in the merits of our case and the leadership role (among all sports leagues) we have taken in the study, prevention, diagnosis and management of concussions.”"

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Besides being a big word, most commonly referred to as simply CTE, it is a dangerous disease that is common in former football and hockey players, as well as former military members. Yet, CTE isn’t noticeable like a normal injury, in fact CTE can’t be diagnosed until after death. Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center studies CTE and is a place I did a lot of my studying when it came to learning about this disease. This is the difference between brains that have CTE and ones that don’t.

While the NFL has had their horror stories with CTE, the NHL has as well. Stories such as Steve Montador, who died this past February, or Derek Boogaard who passed away over 4 years ago. Both former NHL players who had CTE. Both players who had concussions and other head injuries in their playing career.

Detroit Red Wings
Detroit Red Wings /

Detroit Red Wings

People always say “well the player should inform the athletic trainer when they have a concussion and can’t blame anyone but themselves for the end result.” While I guess that is in some ways true, understand you are dealing with people who love to play their sport and in these cases are doing it as a job to support their families and themselves.

If you never played sports but like watching them you might not understand an athletes mindset. So I sought to find someone who had a good understanding of it in a friend I know.

I have a friend who can’t play hockey anymore due to the number of concussions he suffered while playing. His story was very interesting and something I’ve seen or heard from athletes in all sports. This is what he told me about his experience dealing with head injuries.

“The first time you get a knock to the head and when you sit there you think to yourself “I’m probably okay, I can just walk this off”. You get up and as long as someone doesn’t force you to sit out you go back to playing after maybe sitting on the bench a few minutes. Next time you think it is no big deal is when you have constant head aches at random times of the day and you think “If this head ache doesn’t go away, I’ll probably tell someone”, but then it goes away and your forget about it.

You fear to tell anyone because you don’t want to have to sit out and miss playing time, you don’t want to let teammates down and you don’t want to seem weak next to everyone.

You fear to tell anyone because you don’t want to have to sit out and miss playing time, you don’t want to let teammates down and you don’t want to seem weak next to everyone. It is a continuing cycle until you either get enough small ones they add up or you get a big one and go through a lot to get back to your normal self.”

Yet what if you never get back to your normal self?

He didn’t really have an answer for me saying “I guess you just try to stay in the sport you love or die doing what you love. I never thought about [what if you never get back to your normal self] it I guess.”

“You just keep fighting through the injuries because you love the sport you play, you have a whole team depending on you to pull your weight, you can’t just give up on them because this or that hurts.”

It seems like a crazy mindset to have, but there are many players across all sports that have that mindset when they are playing. You play to win the game and nothing will stop you.

So what does this have to do with Franzen or the Red Wings in general? Franzen isn’t like Boogaard who was a major fighter and dealt with a drug addiction. Or Montador, who again was a big fighter and would at times play reckless hockey. Franzen is a million times different, Franzen can be seen through his Instagram account, as a guy that takes care of himself and that is great. Yet while these players are different, their brains may still be alike; damaged.

While Franzen has said that if he takes another big hit to the head and suffers a concussion that he would hang it up, and that is good, think of the other players out there that are willing to risk it just one more time, one more hit. It makes you wonder if even him coming back this season is worth the damage that one hit may do to his health in the future?

Next: Will you honestly miss Mike Babcock?

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