Rick Nash on Friday announced his retirement via a statement from his agent, Joe Resnick, who said Nash was forced from the game “due to unresolved issues/symptoms from the concussion sustained last March.”
Any number of former NHL players nodded quietly when they heard the news. Among them was Keith Primeau, whose career was similarly truncated in 2005.
“I got hit because I gave it out myself,” Primeau said. “He (Nash) got hit because he had the puck.”
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On Sunday evening, Nash will drop the ceremonial first puck before the Blue Jackets-New York Rangers game at Nationwide Arena. The greatest player in Jackets history will be rousingly and publicly embraced, as well he should. Great player. Better person.
Our Brian Hedger reported, via Twitter, that Nash might submit to radio and/or television interviews, but he “isn’t ready for the full-on press conference setting.”
Primeau, reached by telephone Saturday, can relate. When he announced his retirement in 2006, he did not want to face the bright television lights and the loud reporters in a mass-media session.
“The anxiety … ” Primeau said, and let that hang there.
Nash, 34, had an extraordinary career: 437 goals, 368 assists and 805 points in 1,060 games over 15 years. He played his first nine seasons with the Jackets from 2002 to ’12 and remains the Jackets’ all-time leader in every meaningful offensive category. He was a 6-foot-4, 211-pound left wing whose game was a mix of classic power and soft-handed art.
Primeau, 47, had an extraordinary career: 266 goals and 619 points in 909 games played. He, too, had a 15-year hitch (with four teams). He was a hulking, 6-foot-5, 220-pound center, a Pierre-Luc Dubois type, who played a 200-foot game with an easy menace. He also played when the gloves dropped fairly regularly.
They are in the same club now.
“It’s not a club per se, but people would be surprised to learn how many are in this club,” Primeau said. “There are guys whose games slow down and they deny they have post-concussion symptoms — and then they retire and come to understand. There are guys who retire because of the symptoms. Every so often, someone reaches out or we cross paths and we talk about it. It helps so much.
“It would be a nice initiative for the league to establish something, some sort of association, to make it easier for these players to come together. I remember (former Flyers all-time great Bobby) Clarke telling me, ‘Call (Nick) Kypreos, call (Jeff) Beukeboom — call guys who’ve gone through this.’ And I didn’t see what good that would do.
“I finally found some solace in talking to guys like that. Guys who’ve gone through post-concussion symptoms, who understand.”
Primeau’s first seven post-retirement years were “a blur.” There were days when he was compelled to lay prone in a darkened bedroom, in utter quiet. Post-concussion symptoms have a wide range — from sensitivity to noise and light, headaches and dizziness to insomnia, loss of memory and depression — and the symptoms themselves can have a wide range of severity.
The last five or six years, Primeau has gotten closer to “normalcy.” Primeau has four kids (including Cayden, the starting goaltender for the U.S. national team at the recently completed world junior championships). Primeau also has a grandchild. He enjoys.
“All in all, I’m doing great,” he said. “I’m living my life.”
On Nov. 12, the same day that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman entered the Hall of Fame in Toronto, the league settled a concussion lawsuit in a Minnesota court. The latter was a rousing victory for the league’s owners.
Former players who accused the league of failing to protect them were denied class-action status in the suit. This gave the league all the legal leverage, and it settled for a paltry $18.9 million. Compare: The NFL is expected to pay out $1 billion to settle its concussion case.
The NHL settlement also includes provisions for more neurological testing and assessment of players, money for treatment of players who test positive for two or more concussions, and a provision for a “Common Good Fund,” aimed at providing for retired players in need.
Legally, the league’s backside is covered (for now, at least). Bettman should do the right thing now. He must compel owners to do more to protect players. The game has never been faster. He can make it safer.
Nash’s last concussion came from a blow to the head delivered by a nominal player named Cedric Paquette. Paquette was not penalized. Nash joined the club.