Boden: Don't feel hurt over Blackhawks' injury secrecy

Boden: Don't feel hurt over Blackhawks' injury secrecy
March 2, 2013, 9:45 pm
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It's much ado about something we can't do anything about.

Each NHL team has its own degree of keeping injuries shrouded in mystery. Joel Quenneville isn't unlike many other head coaches. He, in fact, may have the strongest secret decoder ring of them all.

But I learned long ago, as do the other people who cover NHL teams regularly, that it's a losing battle trying to extract detailed information about players' physical problems beyond the "upper body" and "lower body" characterizations.

From concussions to broken bones, from muscle pulls to blown-out ligaments, it's a policy many complain about (media and fans), but won't be able to do anything about. And because we want more information in this world where just about anything we want to know is at our fingertips, the wall that's built around details of those injuries aggravates some of us even more.

I decided to let it go, journalism training be damned.

Believe me, during the last three years when I was fortunate to be around the Blackhawks on a regular basis - especially at the outset - there were times I'd walk away from press conferences shaking my head or grumbling under my breath about what the big deal is, and "why not just come out and say it?" I'm not sure if it's worse when it seems obvious what the injury is or if we had no idea. It's a battle the beat people in almost every other NHL city find themselves in as well.

Unlike the NFL (where the physical toll is even greater) there's nothing in the official rulebook that requires teams to divulge injuries. While the football reports are also tied into the huge amount of wagering involved (whether they care to publicly admit it or not), the NHL's injury dance with the media and fans is more of an unwritten code.

Kind of like "letting the game police itself" when it comes to physical play or cheap shots. But while the eye-for-an-eye philosophy is gradually becoming less common (thanks to the growing concern over concussions and Officer Brendan Shanahan), I'm thinking the injury "code" won't change soon.

While there have been some Blackhawks coaches through the years who've been more open about the exact nature of injuries, on or off the record, trying to dig and pry and pursue medical staff back channels has never been much different than it is now. The philosophy runs almost air-tight between the coaches, players, support staff and front offices around the NHL.

You can try asking point-blank questions about body parts, but any answer beyond "upper" or "lower" - coming with an estimated return timetable - is usually out of the ordinary. You can try reading between whatever lines you like. Usually a "we'll know more tomorrow" means that additional tests need to confirm something bad, or hope is being held out that the injury isn't as bad as initially diagnosed.

Some can argue coaches are keeping information from the fans, but that's not as important to them and their organization as dealing with severity and timetables internally. Once a coach reveals details on one injury, it opens the way for people to expect it to happen more regularly. To use an example from the other night in St. Louis: if Corey Crawford was simply dehydrated, or ill or suffering from food poisoning, why not just say so? That's why.

It's also been Joel's way from Day One. Hockey players are cutthroat enough to target those injured areas once they come back. Not that football players wouldn't, but there are a lot fewer players a hockey coach can sub in with four forward lines and three defensive pairings once that player does return. He and the team work very hard in this area, whether any of us like it or not. He's not going to change.

After awhile, it's a losing battle for the media and unless someone in that circle confides in any of us, we're forced to go with "apparent" shoulder injury, or "likely" knee injury, or "possible" concussion. Most times, there's enough evidence through replays exactly how and where the injury occurred. How much does an official confirmation from the coach really matter, in those instances, if we can generally figure it out on our own?

There are a lot of things to like about Joel or any other coaches here in town, or with your favorite team. His philosophy on injuries falls in line with just about every one of the other 29 coaches in the league. Some share a little bit more. But it's his way. It's obviously very important to him. And sometimes, when we try to find out more about things people don't want us to know - without any repercussions in place - it's time for the media and fans to direct their energy or anger towards other things. Not that I should tell you what to do with that energy or anger.

Whatever the unstated injury is, Joel and his staff assuredly are trying to get that player back as soon as possible, whether they tell us exactly what it is or not. And when he does have an idea, at the very least he lets us read between the lines when that player's expected back - if not come out and tell us (when he doesn't want to keep the opposition guessing). He'll let us know whether a new injury's related to a previous one (as far as we know).

Another of Joel's policies is to keep his assistant coaches off-limits to the media (save for the pre-3rd period bench interviews on telecasts or to listen in on fan Q-and-A's at the annual convention). There've been times the past few seasons we'd love to talk to any of them through good times and bad. How about talking to Stephane Waite about the play of the goalies this season? Outside of off-the-record small talk with them, Joel's the staff's mouthpiece who goes on the record. That's just his way of doing it.

It's the media's obligation to try to get that information on injuries. The wall's up. There are only so many times you can run into a wall that's not coming down. The Blackhawks' head coach is a wonderful, personable guy. He might go in the Hall of Fame one day (and his case will be strengthened by a second Stanley Cup in four years here). This is his public policy on injuries, which he feels suits his team best.