Point/Counterpoint: On Chris Pronger’s “Knee Virus” and the Flyers’ Keeping Mum on Injuries

Welcome to the newest edition of “Point/Counterpoint,” where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes present both sides of one particular issue with their own unique view and flair. This week, Kim P. and Craig F. square off over the Flyers’ public communication regarding team injuries.

Point: Kim P.

Towards the end of last November, the Flyers reported that captain and best defenseman Chris Pronger was battling a virus. It wasn’t a big deal, he just needed some R&R, and he’d be fine.

Except he wasn’t fine. The team announced on November 28th that Pronger was to undergo knee surgery and that he would be out for four weeks. The knee injury had been kept pretty tightly under wraps by the team, because no one knew about it – not the media, not the fans, no one. The surgery caught everyone off guard, but he’d only be out for four weeks. Once he recovered, he’d be back and ready and raring to go. Again, nothing to worry about.

Pronger has not played since November 19th.

We now know that he had been dealing with concussion symptoms since October 24th, when Mikhail Grabovski’s stick made immediate and gruesome impact with his face. Despite the concussion which resulted, he underwent knee surgery. Despite the concussion, the team said he’d be fine. The team has doctors, and these guys are doctors for a reason. They knew it wasn’t just a flu bug. So why the need for such secrecy?

It happened again just recently with Andrej Meszaros. An “upper-body injury” turned out to be a back injury that required surgery and 6-8 weeks recovery time. So the Flyers are going to be without one of their top defensemen for at least the first round of the playoffs, and they didn’t think their fans deserved to know that off the bat?

This is a common thing in the NHL. Teams choose not to disclose information about injuries suffered by their players – it’s always just an “upper body” or “lower body” injury and everyone is left to guess what it could be. It’s nothing new, but it’s still frustrating.

Now, I get it. There are reasons behind this. I would assume that the two biggest are that they don’t want opponents to know their players’ weak spots, and they don’t want fans to stop spending their money. If they know that a big player is hurt and could miss a considerable amount of time, maybe they’re not buying as many of his jerseys or t-shirts, and maybe they’re not purchasing as many playoff tickets. Those are valid concerns for the organization to have.

But, come on. Think about those fans. I understand the need to protect your investments, but fans invest, too. These are diehard fans, people who rise and fall with the team, and people who invest their time, money and passion in your organization. They deserve to know what’s going on with the team – the good, the bad, and the injured.

Counterpoint: Craig F.

There are reasons clubs keep players’ injuries a secret and they are legitimate.

One reason, as Kim stated already, is the fact the opponents shouldn’t know your players’ painful spots. If a player has a bum shoulder or bruised back you better believe the opponents will be pushing that player into the boards with the injured shoulder leading the way or cross-checking that skater’s back all night long. This tactic of secrecy surrounding injuries becomes more crucial in the playoffs.

Imagine if Claude Giroux tweaks a muscle in his leg away from the play and the opposition doesn’t recognize how the injury occurred during the game. If Paul Holmgren comes out and says, “Hey fans, Giroux’s right hamstring is killing him. He can barely make full strides in practice, but since it’s the postseason he’s going to push through it.” Without a doubt, every player on the other team is taking swings at that hamstring every time Giroux is on the ice. Three of four straight games and Giroux is more concerned about icing his black and blue hamstring rather than scoring goals.

Another reason injuries shouldn’t always be told up front is the fact the game is team-oriented, it’s not about the individual.

I know this sounds cheesy, but the fans, especially if they are die hard, shouldn’t be less motivated to pay for playoff tickets if Giroux or Scott Hartnell or Pavel Kubina isn’t in the line-up. A fan should always be there for their team regardless of the circumstances, such as why the Flyers’ faithful stuck with the team after a season similar to 2006-2007. I think the fans, who want their team to have every advantage on the ice, can understand why they wouldn’t want to broadcast the vulnerability of one of their star players so the opposition can gain an edge.

In fact, I think it’s fair to the fans that they often delay the news about the injuries to their players. It is always better the doctors and team officials have plenty of time to make sure they have made the right diagnosis.

Take for instance the series of Pronger incidents. What if they had come out and said immediately that he was out for the season without spending that much time to actually make sure of it? What if, hypothetically speaking, after a few months of therapy and amazing recovery, something the team doctors couldn’t have anticipated in the first few days of diagnosis, Pronger is fully capable of playing in the final month of the regular season and the playoffs. I’m sure the fans who refunded or sold their season-tickets quickly after the Pronger news would be upset.