May 11, 2023

NHL enforcers die 10 years younger than their fellow players: The study, published Wednesday in the JAMA Network Open, found that enforcers died on average a decade younger than comparable peers who were drafted at the same rank, were of similar height and weight and played the same position.

posted by NoMich to hockey at 11:14 AM - 11 comments

I won't be able to take a close look at it until later this evening, but I didn't see a link in the CBC article to the actual paper, which is here if anyone would like to see it. I believe it's available in full*, but if y'all run into any trouble feel free to reach out and I can email a pdf.

*I'm logged in everywhere thanks to working in academia, so I can never really tell for sure.

posted by Ufez Jones at 12:03 PM on May 11, 2023

Okay, having read the paper over dinner, I think "Nearly one in four enforcers died of suicide or overdose", would make an equally damning headline. Given they collected their data via publicly available obituaries*, I wouldn't be surprised if that's a bit of an undercount. Mortality data is generally kind of dodgy in the best settings, much moreso when you bring in things like suicide and overdose. Given the small sample size, even if they were off by one it would give the power of the results a decent boost.

*Shout-out to whoever on the research team undertook that part of data collection. Combing through online obits sounds like the special combo platter of tedium, frustration, and a bummer I know too well.

posted by Ufez Jones at 09:26 PM on May 11, 2023

Thanks for your input, ufie

posted by NoMich at 09:41 PM on May 11, 2023

Thanks for posting! I enjoyed going through their methodology and seeing which covariates they looked at. I sent it over to our senior biostastician who recently returned from her own annual ice hockey tournament/vacation. I'll let you know if she has any interesting thoughts (beyond the obvious Yikes)

posted by Ufez Jones at 10:18 PM on May 11, 2023

That's great. I love getting an analysis like this. Thanks!

posted by NoMich at 10:42 PM on May 11, 2023

All your science nerd stuff aside (as a lawyer, y'all are well above my comprehension) (also: senior biostastician--you can't just make up words, you know) I just focus on the conclusions.

And those conclusions make me uncomfortable. I've always advocated that there is a place, even a need, in hockey for fighting. In a nutshell, referees can't see everything, and there has to be some way for the game to police itself to ultimately stay safer for the smaller, more skilled players. With a few enforcers out there, we actually get better hockey because the skill guys can work without too much fear. But my belief in the necessity of fighting came independent of any analysis of the cost. If the cost of a more entertaining game is literally 10 years of another human being's life, then my entertainment can take a fucking back seat.

posted by tahoemoj at 02:49 PM on May 12, 2023

If you want a glimmer of hope moving forward, tahoe: based on the means and SDs, we can infer that at least 85% of the players in the study were born around 1980 or earlier (that would be under a perfect distribution - my guess is based on the nature of things the actual number is somewhat higher than that).

Now, I don't know much about youth hockey, especially the kind of programs that NHL players emerge from, but my guess is that it has gotten somewhat safer on the head injury front in the ensuing decades, at least through helmet technology and ideally via a bit of a culture-shift on the fighting side (although I'm sure that's highly variable).

Working with the knowledge that brain injuries during adolescence can lead to all manner of negative long-term outcomes including (but not limited to) higher impulsivity, higher risk-taking, depression/anxiety, etc. reducing the number of brain injuries in youth hockey should lead to better overall long-term outcomes, and potentially less overall gooning at the pro level (yes, I'm kind of implying that brain injuries in adolescence leads to a higher likelihood of goondom, which is an unknowable, but I don't think it's a massive stretch).

I don't think we can ever technology our way out of the math that fighting/enforcing -> increased brain injuries -> poor long-term outcomes, but I would expect that the effect will be attenuated a bit over time as the results of safety measures really start to kick in. And that's not even touching the fact that we've made substantial progress culturally in the realms of destigmatizing mental health struggles and treatment seeking which, given a large enough sample, should have some measurable effect as well.

posted by Ufez Jones at 05:49 PM on May 12, 2023

(And look, I'm used to a certain amount of eye-glazing over when I get too into the weeds on work talk with my family and friends, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit here and get lectured about technical jargon and impenetrable language from a lawyer.)

posted by Ufez Jones at 06:11 PM on May 12, 2023

The huge thing that the NHL has done to reduce the amount of goons in the game was to change some rules that made the game faster. Now, if you put a guy on the ice that can't skate very well/is very slow, but can punch people, you may as well just put a pylon on the ice. The game is much faster now which requires guys with higher skills.

So, what can be done to reduce head shots/cheap shots/general goonery now that the guys don't fight so much? Have an office of player safety that can actually punish players that perform such goonery, but that will require a major change in the CBA that deals with this topic. To make this major change, there needs to be a shift in the culture of the NHL, which I feel pessimistic about. After Teuvo Teravainen got his hand broken by an uncalled two-handed slash on his hand while shooting the puck, the story about it on made it sound like there was no intent on the play:

Teravainen sustained the injury when his glove was hit by the stick of Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau while taking a shot from the top of the left face-off circle with 4:24 remaining in the third.

What a crock.

posted by NoMich at 11:16 AM on May 13, 2023

So here's a dumb-ass engineer's idea for cutting down the goonery. If a player is injured by contact that results in a penalty, the penalized player will be suspended withou pay until the injured player returns to playing status. In addition, a player on the offending team who is the positional equivalent of the injured player shall also be suspended for the same duration. In other words, the goon sits until the injured player is back. Let's presume that the injured player is the second line center. Then the second line center of the offending team also takes an unpaid vacation. Crazy idea, and rather Draconian, but it just might work. The skilled players might just exert enough pressure on the goons (and those coaches who encourage goonery) to bring it to a halt.

posted by Howard_T at 04:19 PM on May 13, 2023

I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit here and get lectured about technical jargon and impenetrable language from a lawyer

Hey, I worked long and hard to get my degree in obscuring simple matters with complex verbiage.

posted by tahoemoj at 06:47 PM on May 17, 2023

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