The announcement from longtime NHL forward Rick Nash early Friday that he was stepping away from the game of hockey due to concussion-related issues was a move that highlighted the consequences of head injuries in the National Hockey League (which should put the league on notice), and one that for the Washington Capitals and right wing T.J. Oshie, should motivate both player and team to ensure that a similar fate does not befall Washington’s beloved forward.
While Oshie hasn’t (to the public’s knowledge) dealt with post-concussion issues, he is just two years younger (32) than Nash and is a vital piece of the Capitals’ offense and locker room culture. Perhaps more alarmingly, he has suffered five concussions in his 11-season career, the last few of which have caused him to miss substantial time. While Oshie has remained healthy and avoided further injury since returning to the lineup, Nash’s retirement at the age of just 34 (an age at which players of his offensive caliber are often still employed by an NHL) is a glaring reminder that things can go south very quickly when it comes to head injuries.
The NHL has made efforts to reduce the number of head injuries/concussions and the consequences that follow such as the situation Nash finds himself in now over the last few seasons by cracking down on hits to the head, but has faced criticism from many, including former player Daniel Carcillo, who has been an advocate for protecting players from head injuries. One could make the argument that, had he not been dealing with post-concussion issues, Nash would currently be on an NHL roster, given his offensive capabilities and consistent production throughout his career. And it’s situations like Nash’s that should push the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman to further efforts to improve a player’s safety when it comes to head injuries.
For the Capitals and Oshie, a husband and father of two small girls, Nash’s announcement highlights the need for the team to keep their star out of harm’s way by taking every precaution possible if necessary. With Oshie locked up for six more seasons, the Capitals must ensure the tenacious winger is on the ice for the majority, if not all of those respective campaigns.
By Michael Fleetwood