Rozner: Does Blackhawks' Crawford have an NHL future?

 
 
Updated 12/17/2018 6:03 PM
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  • Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford will decide whether he will play again after suffering another concussion Sunday.

    Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford will decide whether he will play again after suffering another concussion Sunday. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Corey Crawford is going to get a lot of free advice in the days and weeks to come.

And it's worth precisely what it costs.

While we wait to see if he returns to the Blackhawks this week, next month or never -- from a concussion suffered Sunday night -- much will be said about what the goaltender should do.

But only Crawford will be able to answer the question of whether he can come back from another concussion after the last one kept him out of the net for 10 months.

And more important, whether he wants to.

There was much discussion behind the scenes about Crawford's desire to ever play hockey again as he rehabbed in 2018. Many questioned his interest in the game, which is almost always the case when the return is repeatedly delayed and especially when the injury is not visible to the naked eye.

The road to Halifax is paved with the careers of players whose hearts were questioned because they did not reappear in a time frame deemed appropriate by coaches and execs, thinking them malingerers but later determined to be seriously damaged.

There is so much that doctors don't know about brain injury and the best of them will tell you that studies are in their infancy, despite claims that physicians suddenly have all the answers.

There is no simple explanation for why some players can get hit repeatedly in the head and never suffer symptoms, living full lives without ever having problems with dementia, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.

There are some who don't present with concussions as a player, but suffer from horrific disease later in life.

There are players who get knocked out and can return the next day, and players who suffer minor hits and can't play for a year.

There are players who seem to be out on their feet but can return 15 minutes later, and players who don't show symptoms until a week after a big hit.

In March 2012, it was suggested that Jonathan Toews should never play hockey again after a serious concussion. He has since won two Stanley Cups and at times this season has looked like a younger version of himself.

Sidney Crosby took hits to the head in back-to-back games the season before Toews was injured and played only 8 games in 14 months.

After the second hit on Jan. 5, 2011, Crosby missed the rest of the season and the playoffs. He skipped the first 20 games in the fall of 2011 and returned Nov. 21 to put up 12 points in 8 games.

But concussion-like symptoms returned in December after he took an elbow to the head and he was out again.

There have been scares for Crosby along the way, but he also has won a pair of Cups since he was told to retire and remains one of the NHL's top stars.

In June 2012, former Blackhawk Steve Ludzik told me the story of how he was diagnosed with Parkinson's before the age of 40 because of repeated hits to the head while a professional hockey player.

"People who want to say this is from fighting are clueless," Ludzik said in 2012. "I don't give a (bleep) what they think. I only fought (22) times in 10 years and I never got clocked. I never caught anyone good, either.

"This is from getting hit in the head. The constant banging wore me down. It's like being in bumper cars for years without stopping.

"My guess is I had about six concussions, and you never said anything because you didn't want to lose your job. You'd find out later from the guys that when you got to the bench you couldn't say your name, and then you had a headache for a week and couldn't eat anything."

Ludzik said six years ago that he worried about Crosby's long-term health.

"He could wind up like me," Ludzik said. "You know, hitting is a great part of the game -- important part of the game -- but hitting a guy in the head has nothing to do with the game.

"I heard Bobby Hull talking about it and he can't believe what these guys do to each other. They hit in his day, too, but they didn't try to end each other's career. There was some respect.

"What happened to me, I know it's because of the shots I took to the head. You take enough and you're gonna wind up with something like (Parkinson's), or worse."

Who would know better than Steve Ludzik what the concussion repercussions can be?

So should Crawford retire? Should Toews and Crosby have hung up the skates years ago? Why have so many enforcers suffered post-career and taken their own lives, yet others say they are completely fine?

Does anyone really have the answers?

All fair questions, but the only answer for Corey Crawford will be the one he finds in his own head.

Here's hoping his mind is clear when he makes his next big decision.

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