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NHL should allow teams to replace concussed players during games

Help rushed to Matt Grzelcyk’s side after the Bruins defenseman was hit from behind in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

Not that it will make Matt Grzelcyk’s head feel any better, or his brain injury heal any faster, but his concussion in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night underscored a potential rule change your faithful puck chronicler has long wanted to be implemented — one all the more poignant these days with the NHL’s concern regarding head injuries increasingly brought into question.

Grzelcyk exited the action 17:57 into the first period, which left the Bruins shorthanded on the backline for the remaining 45:54, up until Carl Gunnarsson ripped home the OT game-winner. Sure, in theory, coach Bruce Cassidy could have borrowed from his 12 pack of forwards to try to patch the black hole on the blue line, but such in-game conversions are virtually nonexistent in today’s game, particularly when it falls to a forward to switch to the backline.


Mathieu Dandenault, ex- of the Red Wings and Canadiens, was among the few forwards in recent years (1995-2009) who had the skill set to flip back on D. The behemoth Dustin Byfuglien (6 feet 5 inches, 260 pounds) is considered exclusively a defenseman these days for the Jets, but the Blackhawks used him frequently up front in his early years. Big Buff probably could strap on the goalie gear if needed and do a competent job. Would he even bother with the pads?

Current NHL rules do not allow in-game substitutions for an injured player. It has been that way through the decades. Other than the rare instances when an emergency backup goaltender is called into duty — sometimes yanked from the stands by a visiting team — coaches must get creative with their “short” benches. There is no bullpen or backup bench in the NHL. The nightly roster is made up of two goalies, 18 skaters, and a matching set of crossed fingers for the guy who runs the bench.


Related: Matt Grzelcyk will be missed on the Bruins blue line

The Bruins knew Grzelcyk was concussed before he left the building around 9 p.m. for further testing at Massachusetts General Hospital. It was obvious even before he finally got back on his feet, aided by teammates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, following the big smack into the glass he took from hard-charging Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Cassidy announced late the next morning that Grzelcyk had been placed “in protocol,” subject to the league’s restrictions on return to play, and would not make the trip to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4 of the Final.

In such obvious concussions cases, or even in instances not as blatant, the league would be wise to allow clubs to make an immediate roster substitution. In Boston’s case, Cassidy could have enlisted the aid of, say, John Moore or Steven Kampfer, either of whom easily could have been suited up by the start of the second period.

To protect against an abuse of the policy, the league could demand the concussed player not be eligible to participate in his club’s next two games. Such will be the case anyway with Grzelcyk. In instances where clubs are uncertain if a player is concussed, they would have to weigh the risk-reward in declaring him “in protocol,” and therefore restocking his roster spot immediately, versus the prospect of perhaps needlessly losing him for the next two games if he ultimately proved to be symptom-free.


Making the change, albeit with the Players’ Association a vital part of the discussion, would be a strong public relations move for the NHL, amid growing concerns that it needs to do more to demonstrate its concern over protecting players’ heads. The rule change alone wouldn’t stop those concerns, vocalized increasingly of late by Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden, but it would be a positive change, one showing concern and deference in regard to brain injuries, as well as the overall health and safety practices around the game.

Matt Grzelcyk suffered a concussion in Game 2 after colliding with the Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist along the boards.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

With Grzelcyk sent to the hospital, three Boston defensemen were forced to log 25 minutes or more of time in Game 2: Charlie McAvoy (27:00), Torey Krug (26:00), and Zdeno Chara (25:45). In Game 1, that trio averaged roughly 22:10. Granted, the OT period of 3:51 influenced those totals a bit, but overall their workload was increased by some 20 percent over Game 1. In what was the club’s 101st game of the season.

The Blues’ strategy, an effective one, going into Game 2 was to put more heat on the Boston defensemen. It was the same strategy going into Game 3 Saturday night, and it won’t change. Blues forecheckers weren’t necessarily aiming to send Grzelcyk to MGH with rubber legs, but that’s what happened and they unquestionably benefited by their seek-and-destroy tactics.

If they can inflict the same kind of damage next on Krug, the Black and Gold’s other vital small defenseman, they’ll be all but assured clear passage to their first Stanley Cup championship. All the better, from the Blues’ perspective, if they can raze Krug early in a game, similar to Grzelcyk, and again force Cassidy to overwork his remaining five blue-line assets.


Allowing an immediate roster substitution — again, only in instances involving concussion — would mitigate that kind of seek-and-destroy strategy. Stop it? No. Absolutely not. The Blues pounded their way back into the series with their Game 2 win, and did so, in part, by leaving Grzelcyk with a brain injury.

Had Moore or Kampfer filled his spot by the second period, their addition alone wouldn’t have altered the Blues’ approach, other than to put one of them in the crosshairs.

However, with Moore or Kampfer in the lineup, Cassidy at least would have had another body to fill vital minutes. Who knows, their inclusion might have been enough for the Bruins to score another goal, something they didn’t do once Grzelcyk went hors de combat. And nothing would have altered the Blues’ behavior quite like a 2-0 series deficit.


Olczyk thought big as a child

Eddie Olczyk in action with the Blackhawks against Ray Bourque and the Bruins in the 1980s.Steve Babineau/Getty Images/File

Eddie Olczyk’s introduction to hockey was in Niles, Ill., some 20 miles northwest of Chicago, where his mom signed him up at the local Ballard Road rink (today known as IceLand) after he brought home a learn-to-skate flier from grade school.

The eldest of Diana Olczyk’s three boys, Eddie quickly became a huge fan of the hometown Blackhawks — the club that would make him the No. 3 overall pick in the 1984 draft — and dreamed of one day of playing in iconic Chicago Stadium.


“And making that walk up the 13 or 14 steps from the dressing room to ice level,” Olczyk said the other day, recalling the quirks and unique ambience of the beloved old Stadium. “I mean, when you’re a kid, that dream’s everything, right?”

Now a longtime NHL analyst for NBC, Olczyk this past week, during a break in his duties at the Garden during the Stanley Cup Final, recalled how his mom was essential in promoting his love for the game.

At the Olczyk home in Niles, an empty living room adjacent to the kitchen served as a first-floor gymnasium and would-be rink, where a willing Diana, with no hockey background, often picked up goalie stick, baseball glove, and also used an oven mitt as a makeshift blocker to fend off her 7-year-old’s shots on net. Two shoes were spaced the requisite 4 feet apart; imagination provided pipes and netting.

Before the first wiffle ball or tennis ball was fired at Diana O in the living room, young Eddie would dress in full hockey uniform in his upstairs bedroom, then come bounding down the 14 steps in his sneakers, acting out a reverse version of the trek he one day would make over and over again with the legendary Indian Head logo on the front of his bona fide NHL sweater.

“Full gear, with my helmet on,” said Olczyk, thinking back to the early ’70s. “And my mom would start singing, ‘Here Come The Hawks!’ And I would just run around the living room while she’s singing, just the two of us . . . keep running . . . she’d keep singing . . . and I’d act like I was in the old Stadium. That’s just one of the reasons why I fell in love with the game, because the support I had from my folks.”

That story and many others have been included in Olczyk’s new book, “Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life” to be released this September. Co-authored by Toronto-based writer Perry Lefko, said Olczyk, it will include myriad tales relating to his hockey and broadcast careers, along with his fervent love of horse racing and wagering.

Olczyk, 52, finished with 1,031 regular-season games played, with 342 goals and 794 points. He was an extra when the Rangers won the Cup in 1994, ending a 54-year drought, and he was head coach in Pittsburgh for 1½ years, including the start of Sidney Crosby’s rookie season. More recently, he battled colon cancer, which remains in remission.

“Let me tell you, there’ll be a lot of crayons with the book,” said the self-effacing Olczyk. “I was reluctant about it all to start, but as I went along, I figured why not, especially if it inspires someone to battle their way through the cancer fight.”

Olczyk’s mom and dad subsequently moved out of Niles and now live closer to Chicago on the North Shore. Diana can still belt out a tune but has retired the goalie gear.

“She’d put the lasagna on simmer, and come in and take a few shots,” said Olcyzk, remembering how his mom kept up her goalie duties as his two younger brothers picked up the game. “Someone asked me the other day, how old was I when my mom stopped taking shots? So, I’m 52 now . . . and I think I was about, oh, 47.”


McAvoy looking at a sizable raise

Charlie McAvoy had seven goals and 21 assists in 54 regular-season games for the Bruins this season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Charlie McAvoy, a restricted free agent July 1, most likely will sign a healthy, lucrative contract extension in Boston over the summer.

McAvoy, 21, has his inconsistent moments, not unlike David Pastrnak during his entry-level deal, but he has made clear that he is ready to seize the franchise defenseman role in full in the next year or two.

The trick now for GM Don Sweeney will be to figure out the right salary figure and term for the franchise defenseman in waiting. Sweeney underwent this exercise in the summer of 2015, weeks into his tenure, and failed to make Dougie Hamilton happy, although Hamilton, then age 22, ultimately preferred to be somewhere other than the Hub of Hockey.

McAvoy appears happy in Boston and has thrived under the guiding hand of coach Bruce Cassidy. But keep in mind, McAvoy grew up a Rangers fan on Long Island, just east of Manhattan, and had McAvoy played more than 10 games prior to making his 2017 playoff debut (Rule 10-2c), the Blueshirts could have dropped a RFA offer sheet on the strapping young defenseman.

Like a lot of clubs, the Blueshirts are without a franchise defenseman. They are also coached by David Quinn, who coached McAvoy for his two years at Boston University before he turned pro with the Bruins.

Ideally, the Bruins would extend McAvoy on a pact similar to Pastrnak, who re-upped in the summer of 2017 for six years/$40 million — an average annual value of $6.67 million. That would place him comfortably at T4 on the payroll, behind David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Patrice Bergeron, a trio averaging just about $7 million a year.

An outside offer sheet of $6.67 million a year, had McAvoy been eligible for an RFA offer sheet this July 1, would bring back only first-, second-, and third-round draft picks for the Bruins as compensation. The Bruins wouldn’t allow him to walk for that. The Rangers, according to capfriendly.com, don’t currently have those assets on hand, even if they had been able to make an offer in that range. That would not preclude them from acquiring draft picks in the next month to make the offer, but they don’t have them right now, and they are also well aware the Bruins would have matched the deal and kept him.

Loose pucks

A safe, albeit uninspiring choice in Edmonton, where new GM Ken Holland this past week made the expected hire of Dave Tippett as the Oilers’ new head coach. The ex-Whalers winger has 14 years of NHL bench boss duty (Stars and Coyotes) but never did better than getting either squad into a conference finals [2008 with the Stars, 2012 with the Coyotes). His make or break in Edmonton will be whether he can install a productive game plan around all-world talents Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It could take Holland 2-3 years to deliver the roster assets to make that happen . . . Bruins goalie prospect Kyle Keyser, of the Coral Springs, Fla., Keysers was named a second-team All-Star in the OHL for his work (32-8-0) with the Oshawa Generals. Keyser, 20, came to the Bruins’ 2017 rookie camp on an invite as an undrafted free agent, secured a deal, and possibly will rank as the club’s best backstop prospect going into September’s training camp. Current top prospect Zane McIntyre has no deal in place for 2019-20. Dan Vladar has one year remaining that pays only $70,000 in the minors . . . A helmetless Torey Krug, after delivering the signature hit on Robert Thomas in Game 1 of the Cup Final, said he was all in favor of the proposed rule change that would mandate players return directly to their bench next season if they lose their helmets during play. “Good rule, I’m in favor,” said Krug. Good rule, but tricky to enforce. For instance, it appeared Blues winger David Perron intentionally knocked Krug’s helmet off in their scrum, the precursor to Krug’s long rush and big hit on Thomas. Unless there is a corresponding penalty for players knocking off a helmet (equipment violation?), the tactic could become an effective tool in changing a club’s on-ice dynamics in any given moment. Like the referees don’t already have enough to legislate . . . Hand up high here as one who figured the Bruins acquired Marcus Johansson strictly as a rental. Definitely a keeper, though not at the $4.6 million per annum he signed for three years ago with the Capitals. Can’t see Sweeney offering him more than $4 million a year, if that, in a market that likely will lavish the 28-year-old with $6 million a year or more.

Lewy body dementia, the devastating disease that ended Bill Buckner’s life this past week at age 69, also claimed Blackhawks great Stan Mikita last August at age 78. Mikita and fellow Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers, the ex-Bruins goalie, grew up together on the same street in St. Catharines, Ontario. The Cheese, forced to take piano lessons as a kid in the late 1940s, recalled last summer that he worked hard to hide his lessons from Mikita, not wanting to suffer Mikita’s playful jabs for tickling the ivories. Not an easy thing to do, considering Cheevers’s piano teacher gave those lessons in her home, right next door to the Mikitas.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.