A few weeks ago, I tweeted yet another random hockey thought, but one that’s near to my heart: We’re not talking enough about how Rick Nash is considering retirement at age 34 after suffering another concussion late this past season.
It’s also a somewhat overlooked story, that a star player would consider hanging up his skates early as a result of repeated head trauma. To me, it’s a massive bummer, but I get it – long term health, both physical and mental, is more important than hockey.
I was irrationally excited about Nash being acquired by the Boston Bruins last season. Ever since he joined the NHL, he’s been one of my dudes, a big-bodied, good-skating goal scorer that I loved watching even though he didn’t play for my favorite team.
And then all of the sudden he did, but for a shorter period of time than what was expected from even a trade deadline rental.
I was fully on board with the move from the beginning, even though it came at a relatively steep price, namely center/wing Ryan Spooner, defense prospect Ryan Lindgren, and a first-round pick in this past June’s draft that Ottawa used to select a Jacob Bernard-Docker.
Nash’s tenure with the Bruins started well enough, resulting in two goals and three points in his first three games, but things quickly went off the rails after he suffered a concussion in a March 17 game against the Winnipeg Jets. Nash was able to come back for the postseason, where he contributed three goals and two assists with 39 shots in 12 games, but clearly something wasn’t quite right.
That’s been affirmed after Nash hit unrestricted free agency and went unsigned over the summer, corroborating reports that he might not return to the NHL at all.
“He’s not ready to make a decision and teams need answers for personnel decisions,” agent Joe Resnick of Top Shelf Sports told Sportsnet just prior to the July 1 free agent signing kickoff. “He wants to be fair to the teams.”
This week, Bruins center David Krejci offered his thoughts on Nash, who played on his wing last spring.
“It was tough luck for him,” Krejci said, per Conor Ryan of MassLive. “His body has been through a lot. He’s been playing in the league for a really long time — over 1,000 (games). A concussion, that never helps. It’s hard to recover from those kind of injuries. Not really sure how he’s feeling right now, but it’s his decision, it’s his life. … He’s not just a hockey player, he’s also a father and he needs to make sure his health is the No. 1 priority.”
It’s the latter point that is key, and one only has to recall another former Bruin in Marc Savard to understand the importance of playing the long game with respect to concussion recovery.
From Scott Wheeler’s piece on Stanley Cup of Chowder back in 2016:
At its worst, Savard was unable to handle light and followed a different schedule than his family. He would sleep during the day and wake up in the evening when he could turn the lights off in the house and dim the brightness on his TV. He developed depression, grew anxious and irritable. Were it not for his wife Valerie – “she’s been incredible” – and his family, Savard says he wouldn’t have been able to get through it.
As much as I love Nash and would be delighted to see him back in black and gold – or anywhere around the NHL for that matter – I don’t wish Savard’s plight on anyone. When healthy, Nash has proven to be one of his generation’s most consistent goal scorers, and while it’s no doubt tempting to prolong his career in search of a Stanley Cup, it’s not worth it if he and his doctors feel a similar trajectory is likely or even possible should be risk another potential brain injury.
Sure he’s past his prime, but Nash still has plenty of gas in the tank, one would think. He’s not in line for a long-term, big-ticket deal, but would certainly fit on many a roster, even in a league that’s increasingly trending younger and faster.
But, like Krejci said, it’s important to remember these guys are more than hockey players; they have partners, kids, extended families and friends who care more about their well being than anything else.
With training camps set to open next week, I’d be sad if Nash isn’t present, but I’ll respect the hell out of any decision that puts his personal well being and love for his family above a game, as much as we all love this particular one.