Preview: Game #38 Leafs @ Devils – “I have a theory about concussions”

Until yesterday, we could say that whether Randy Carlyle’s decisions to play with three lines, sit one of his best defencemen and favour size over speed in the lineup were good or bad, at least they weren’t affecting the safety of his skill players.

That’s not the case anymore. With no effective league-mandate on handling concussions handled by independent specialists, we know how the Joffrey Lupul saga ends. Lupul, after taking a shot to the head last game and leaving the game after initially missing the bench by three whole feet, will probably come back to the lineup too early and put himself at further risk.

I don’t claim to be a concussion expert, but the only concussion expert who seems to think that there are different levels of concussions is Randy “I Have a Theory About Concussions” Carlyle who has come up with an absurd explanation for why he has yet to call Lupul’s injury what it is: a concussion.

Via Sean Gentille of the Sporting News, who is quoting Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

“I have a theory on concussions,” (Carlyle) said. “I think the reason there’s so much more of them — obviously the impact and the size of the equipment and the size of the player — but there’s another factor: everyone wears helmets, and under your skull when you have a helmet on, there’s a heat issue.

“Everyone sweats a lot more, the brain swells. The brain is closer to the skull. Think about it. Does it make sense? Common sense?” said Carlyle, who said he’d never talked to a doctor about his premise, which he was introduced to by Jim Pappin, the former Leaf who also played his career helmet free.

“I don’t know if it’s true, but that would be my theory. Heat expands and cold contracts. The brain is like a muscle, it’s pumping, it swells, it’s a lot closer to the outside of the skull.”

Side-stepping some obvious jokes: Helmets do not cause concussions, and the brain does not swell during normal physical exertion. This is not opinion. This is science. Check WebMD or ask virtually any medical professional if you don’t believe it. Carlyle, for the record, played in the from 1976-93 without wearing a helmet.

The reason this is an issue: Leafs star Joffrey Lupul is out with an injury neither Carlyle nor the team will call a concussion, despite the fact that he left Thursday’s game after getting sandwiched between two Flyers and having his head bounce off one of their shoulders. Lupul was clearly dazed and jelly-legged after the collision, and he’s currently day-to-day with an “upper-body injury.” Okey dokey.

People have pointed out that it doesn’t matter what the Leafs say about an injury if they act upon it internally. This is true. You can hold players out with an upper body injury all you want until the symptoms are gone. The problem is, the Leafs don’t have a recent history of showing an ability to deal with this problem internally.

Last season alone, Colby Armstrong and James Reimer played with what we understood to be later, concussions. This season, Jake Gardiner played with, what we understood to be later, a concussion. Jeffler has a fantastic post (re-published on this website) about how the Leafs in the last two years just haven’t taken this serious issue serious at all.

This includes the time Mikhail Grabovski was rocked by Zdeno Chara, but stayed on the bench because he only had a “mild concussion”. “But I recovered pretty quickly”.

Again, I’m no concussion expert, but those who are say that we need to scrap the term “mild concussion” or “concussion-like symptoms”. I’m no expert on how other teams deal with concussions and it’s a pervasive problem all throughout hockey. There are currently 8 NHLers listed as being out with concussions right now, plus Chris Pronger and Marc Savard listed as being out with “post-concussion syndrome”.  Coming back early probably killed the remainder of Marc Savard’s career.

Anyway, you’d wish the Leafs would be more progressive and sensitive. Tyler Bozak getting first line minutes costs the team wins, but it doesn’t put anybody at risk.

Right, it’s Saturday, so the Leafs have a game:

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 7 PM EDT

TV: CBC (Ontario only)

By The Numbers:

  New Jersey Toronto
Corsi Tied % 53.5% (6th) 46.0% (26th)
5v5 GF/GA Ratio 0.85 (24th) 1.08 (10th)
Team Shot % 6.72% 10.49%
Team Save % 0.916 0.924
PDO 0.983 1.029

Special Teams:

  New Jersey Toronto
PP Success 17.4% (18th) 18.6% (13th)
5v4 GF/60 5.42 (19th) 6.44 (13th)
5v4 SF/60 51.5 (7th) 47.0 (15th)
PK Success 80.0% (21st) 86.1% (4th)
4v5 GF/60 6.80 (18th) 4.87 (5th)
4v5 SF/60 40.5 (4th) 42.0 (5th)


  Starts Quality Starts Quality Start % EV SV %
Martin Brodeur 20 11 55.00% 0.924
James Reimer 21 11 52.38% 0.922

Numbers via and Hockey Analysis


Don’t look now, but it looks like James Reimer’s numbers, after a bad outing against Philadelphia, have settled to around league average. Probably just a snap, since I think he’s an above average starting goaltender, plus the last person to pin losses on a 46% puck-possession team is the goalie.

New Jersey presents a whole other problem, though. They and the St. Louis Blues are the only two teams in the NHL that’s objectively better in all three game states, even strength, powerplay and penalty kill. Their powerplay has yet to click this season, but they’re generating a good rate of shots. Ditto for their penalty kill, but their starting goalie has been out for about half the season and Johan Hedberg, generally quite solid as a backup, had only a .903 save percentage at even strength in Martin Brodeur’s absence and was .820 while shorthanded.

So the Devils goaltending problems are illusory because Brodeur’s been above average this season, when he’s been in. Out is Ilya Kovalchuk, and that’s not even been what’s holding down the Devils’ shooting rates since he’s posted career lows in shooting percentage and goals per game rate. The Devils are struggling, 0-2-3, with Kovalchuk out of the lineup.

Also compounding the issue is that Marek Zidlicky appears to be fourth on the team in shots on goal, which is sure to lower and team’s shooting rate. He did, though, have two goals, hilariously, last time the Leafs and Devils met, and you can read the recap of that game here.

Devils lines:

Alexei Ponikarovsky – Travis Zajac – David Clarkson
Patrik Elias – Andrei Loktionov – Steve Bernier
Matt D’Agostini – Adam Henrique – Dainius Zubrus
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta

Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Marek Zidlicky – Henrik Tallinder
Bryce Salvador – Anton Volchenkov
Peter Harrold

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Coach Peter DeBoer doesn’t like to use his fourth line very much, so using a 7th defenceman is logical. Ironically, DeBoer is better off using 13 or 14 forwards exclusively when Kovalchuk is in the lineup since Kovalchuk can eat an unnatural amount of minutes a game: he actually leads the team averaging 25:14. But even with Kovalchuk out, DeBoer ran with 9 forwards primarily last game out, using Carter and Gionta in specialized situations.

It’s like Randy Carlyle, but DeBoer’s guys—Carter and Gionta last game—killed penalties and each got over 12 minutes of ice-time. They’ll also get Steve Sullivan in the lineup making his Devils debut, so those lines will definitely get shuffled around. I’d expect Sullivan to play in the top six, likely with Bernier dropping to the fourth line.

For the Leafs, the injury to Lupul means that Joe Colborne will get his first crack in the lineup tonight, according to Paul Hendrick. Jake Gardiner will also get into the lineup, and Reimer will start. Clarke MacArthur and Leo Komarov are also projected back into the lineup:

James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Nazem Kadri – Nik Kulemin
Leo Komarov – Mikhail Grabovski – Jay McClement
Colton Orr – Joe Colborne – Frazer McLaren

Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – John-Michael Liles
Mark Fraser – Cody Franson

James Reimer
Ben Scrivens

Ryan Hamilton and Matt Frattin are out while Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren are in, apparently. The Aristocrats!

Lines via Left Wing Lock

  • Jeremy Ian

    Carlyle should be careful with his public hypothesizing about health matters when he has a say in the decision on whether a player should be cleared to play after being concussed. Obviously, no one has told him what liability is. It’s probably the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the whole organization.