Lightning goaltender Mike Smith suffered a concussion on December 2nd and was dealing with the after-effects through January. He stated that he aggravated his injury on January 21st and has been dealing with lingering Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) since.
The Bolts season is a wash and the Lightning franchise alone has lost, in the not-so-recent past, two vital cogs to PCS: Forward Brian Bradley (in 1997-98) and defenseman Petr Svoboda (in early 00-01). Most recently casualty to the injury was Rob DiMaio, who saw his career ended by way of PCS. Smith wants to play again before the season ends... And the Bolts should be exercising caution and telling him flatly. "no".
One of the constant flaws and a constant point of criticism for the current Lightning franchise is a lack of long-term planning. Oh, yes, younger players have been brought into the Lightning mix of late -- but that has been by way of injuries to starters. Poor conditioning and unfortunate circumstances have led to a depletion of the defensive roster and goaltending unit, and turned them into an AHL affiliate all of their own.
And while goalies Karri Ramo and Mike McKenna are not going to vie for the Vezina Trophy, they're healthy. They are serving admirably in their thrown-to-the-wolves circumstances... And best yet? They are not suffering post-injury effects that are potentially career threatening.
For all inherit purposes, Mike Smith's season should be officially over. That creates no pressure to get into game shape, no pressure to have his mind ready to resume netminding duties, especially with the team giving up 33.5 shots on average in the past 10 games. Just get healthy and follow an off-season regiment to be ready to go next September. It's realistic and it's responsible for the long haul.
Which is what makes General Manager Brian Lawton's words from last week so disturbing and foolish (emphasis added by me):
"The mandate is, if you're ready to go, then you're going," GM Brian Lawton said. "If it's the last game of the year, it's the last game of the year. If he's not 100 percent, we're not going to force him to get in a game, but if he is, we're not going to hold him out, either. If he's ready to play, he'll play."
This isn't Nikolai Khabibulin resuming his career and playing in a meaningless games at the end of the 2000-01 season. This is your franchise goaltender who stated he has previously suffered the brain trauma known as a concussion (with Dallas). These things are not minor and have long term effects. Smith might be itching to get his game face on and contribute to the team, but why chance it?
There's nothing to gain, and there's something to lose by encouraging Smith to rush it. Maybe it's an attempted show of bravado by Lawton? We're not sissies and we're going to put a team on ice that can play.
Whatever it is, it's misplaced.
Update (3/23/2009 at 4:38 PM EDT):
Rick Tocchet chimed in today with some comments published by Damian Cristodero at the Times:
Tocchet said with every day goalie Mike Smith (concussion) does not practice makes his return a "moot point." ...... But with Smith doing just 20 minutes a day on a stationary bike, the odds seem long. ... As for next season, Tocchet said, "I don't know what I'd think if I didn't have Smitty next year. A lot of sleepless nights. He's our No. 1 goalie. We need him back.
A touch of realism and the importance of Smith getting healthy. The target is getting healthy for next season, not specifically this season