Grove: Great For Penguins If Hornqvist Returns But There Is A Downside

Bob Grove
January 18, 2019 - 12:49 pm

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - The Penguins have lost two of their first three games on a five-game Western road trip, and three of their last five games. Thanks to Columbus and the New York Islanders, two teams which quite frankly get less attention than they deserve, the Penguins are also in the thick of a tough battle for playoff positioning.

So the possible return tonight in Phoenix or tomorrow night in Las Vegas of Patric Hornqvist, who’s missed the last three games with his second concussion this season and fifth in five seasons in Pittsburgh, is a good thing. Right?

Yes and maybe.

Yes because we all know what Hornqvist brings to the lineup. Leadership. Battle level. Goals. The Penguins are decidedly better the minute Mike Sullivan writes Hornqvist’s name on the lineup sheet.

Maybe because the longer views – whether we’re talking his availability for the 2019 playoffs or his availability to complete a contract that takes him through 2023 – are much hazier. It’s the sad reality of concussions that predicting recovery times is a fool’s game and returning from them makes any player more susceptible to additional occurrences.

Hornqvist had been skating on his own in Pittsburgh after taking a puck to the face Jan. 8, so the fact he’s joined the team on the West Coast suggests he’s very likely to play in one or both upcoming games ahead of the Penguins’ bye week. Hornqvist said taking contact in practice Thursday was “the right step.”

The Penguins, of course, have plenty of experience with concussions. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, their players have lost 320 man-games to concussions, the scariest of them the one Sidney Crosby suffered that season. Their doctors will rely a great deal on their experience and what concussed players tell them about how they feel, and Hornqvist seemed quite genuine in asserting he felt better and that he expects to be a game-time decision tonight.

Regardless of how quickly he recovers from this particular concussion, however, the Penguins have to be concerned about Hornqvist’s future. Not only because he’s had five concussions since joining the team – one in 2014-15, two in 2016-17 and two this season – but because he plays the game in a way that puts him at higher risk than most players for collisions with opponents and pucks.

There have been plenty of recent stories to remind everyone what can happen after multiple concussions.

Johan Franzen, 38, who played 602 games with Detroit, had to quit the Wings over three seasons ago after suffering what he said was at least four concussions. He told the Swedish website SportExpressen last month that he is now battling panic attacks and depression and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He played the game with a style very similar to Hornqvist’s.

Related: Grove: Kessel; Brassard Line Needs To Produce

Former Wings’ star Joe Murphy, who suffered multiple concussions while in the NHL, was found homeless in Kenora, Ont, his story a painful one to read when it was widely publicized three months ago. Rick Nash, who hadn’t played since suffering what was his third career concussion last March while with Boston, announced his retirement last week.

Yes, these are all variations of worst-case scenarios, and of course this isn’t to suggest Hornqvist is heading toward a similar future. Many players get concussions, recover, and go on with their careers. Jamie Oleksiak, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin, Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang have all suffered concussions. Crosby, Justin Schultz, Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury and Carl Hagelin all had multiple concussions while with the team.

Hornqvist is a warrior, and he knows only one way to play the game. He’s always going to lobby to play when he feels good, and he’s not going to become a perimeter player. We understand that. So we’re left to simply root for him to avoid any more concussions and, failing that, to be practical about his future.


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