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Booth, brains and business


Canorcas

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It must be a difficult time to be a David Booth fan these days. There’s not much love in this city for the eccentric 28-year old, who came over from the Florida Panthers in 2011.

Since then, Booth has scored 18 goals and 35 points in 79 games. If those 79 games were over the course of a single season and not bits and pieces over two years, they wouldn’t be so bad. But considering Booth has spent more time in the infirmary than on the ice, there hasn’t been much traction to the Support Booth movement.

To be fair, Booth’s $4.25 million dollar contract was signed in the heels of a strong 2009 campaign with the Panthers. The Michigan native had put up 31 goals and 60 points with the lowly Panthers and seemed like the next big thing in the sunshine state.

Less than 3 months later, everything changed.

October 24th, 2009. That is a date David Booth will never forget. It was the day that Booth’s career came to an abrupt halt.

Mike Richards, then with the Philadelphia Flyers, caught Booth with his head down and delivered what would surely be a suspension-worthy hit in today’s game.

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The hit that changed everything.

Booth was sidelined indefinitely with a concussion and missed the next 45 games as a result.

That hit did more than just change Booth’s career. It changed NHL policy.

Shortly after that incident, Colin Campbell stepped down as the league’s disciplinarian and Brendan Shanahan took the job a few short weeks later. To this day, Shanahan has tried to send a message that headshots will no longer be the norm in professional hockey.

There was a general sense of agreement that headshots had to be eliminated from the game in order to protect players like Booth and Marc Savard. It was an ugly time for the league.

It is perplexing that Canucks fans aren’t more sympathetic to Booth who clearly has yet to pull himself together completely from that incident.

Beloved captain Markus Naslund had a similar regression after suffering his own headshot in 2004. We’re all too familiar with the Bertuzzi incident that occurred as a consequence of that. But it’s true, after suffering a hit to his head, Naslund was never quite the same.

Even after a lockout canceled the entire 2004-2005 season, Naslund came back in 2006 and looked slower and weaker. For the next four seasons, Nazzy would put up fewer numbers until he finally retired early in 2009, walking away from the second-year of his contract with the Rangers. Was his heart in the game? It seems obvious now that it was not. And that in itself was strange, as Naslund was a fierce competitor in his prime and wanted nothing more than to raise the Stanley Cup in Vancouver.

Concussions have serious after effects. It is quite literally a brain injury and it has long lasting effects even years after the original date of injury. It should be no surprise to anyone that David Booth has yet to fully emerge in Vancouver. He’s been looking for his game for the past several years now and was quietly shipped out of Florida due to these lingering effects. They simply didn’t want to deal with the trouble of looking after an expensive but broken player.

It is alarming that despite Booth’s relative young age and physical condition that he hasn’t been able to play a complete game. But age and physique is of little consequence when one’s brain is seriously injured. It hurts anyone and everyone in different ways.

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There is still an opportunity for David Booth to become an important player for Vancouver. But don’t be fooled—he’ll never be that 30-goal scorer who rushes down the ice and slams the net. That style of play led to the most serious injury of his career—it’s hard to ask anyone to keep doing that and ignore the consequences. Not even Markus Naslund played the same after his own injury. Fans and management noticed a less-involved Naslund, often setting up perimeter plays and unwilling to get into high-traffic areas.

Booth is no exception here. He is human, just like the rest of us. When he stubs his toe, it hurts. When he hits his funny bone, it still smarts. And anyone who has suffered a concussion as seriously as he has would know how traumatic that experience must have been.

In the salary cap world of professional hockey though, players are criticized over and over why they aren’t scoring enough goals or enough points in contrast to their wage. It’s almost unfair how anyone can find out just how much money an athlete makes- that sort of information is generally kept private in most occupations. Would there be as many complaints if Booth was making league minimum? Probably not.

When his playing days are over, Booth will walk away from hockey with a brain injury that may continue to nag him for the rest of his life. Not convinced? Just ask Marc Savard or Chris Pronger what those injuries are like—they’ll be happy to educate you.

In the case of David Booth, we should be relieved that a player is still able to play after suffering such a devastating and serious injury. Not everything in hockey is business. And nothing in your brain is invulnerable.

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