With gambling in NHL sphere, players weigh in on future of 'vague' injury disclosures

Leon Draisaitl was hurting — big time. And it was clear for everyone to see.

The Edmonton Oilers centre dealt with an obvious ankle injury throughout the majority of last spring's NHL playoffs.

But as is customary during the post-season — and often throughout the regular schedule — the team would only divulge one of its stars and keys to success had a "lower-body injury" and was available to play.

The attempt at evasiveness didn't have the desired effect as opponents knew exactly where Draisaitl was feeling pain, with some even taking the odd whack at the German's damaged joint.

Only after the Oilers were eliminated was the extent of the injury — a high-ankle sprain — Draisaitl had been dealing with revealed.

So, in the age of social media and replays when it's difficult to keep secrets, plus the increased focus on gambling across the sport, why does the NHL continue to lag behind the NFL, NBA and MLB when it comes to injury disclosure?

"There clearly is a balance," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the start of this season. "A balance of being more transparent with a player's condition and the countervailing factor of putting his health and safety at risk. That balance has been struck in favour of protecting the health and safety of the player going back 15, 20 years now.

"That's where it still sits."

And while Daly added the league's gambling partners haven't asked for changes to its injury policies with an eye toward giving bettors as much information as possible, NHLers know a day could be coming when their bumps and bruises, strains and pulls will be public at all times.

"If I had it my way, I don't think people should even know how much money we make," Chicago centre Max Domi said. "It's nice just to fly under the radar. But I understand that's where the world's going."

The gambling deals the league has signed over the last few years are included in hockey-related revenue (HRR) — the pot of money owners and players across the US$5.2-billion circuit split 50/50, as per the collective bargaining agreement.

More lucrative contracts with casinos or websites could bump that number up over time, but there are reservations about injury reporting.

"With the gambling side of it, maybe they're gonna have to go that way," Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said. "But you definitely saw it with Leo's ankle (in the playoffs) … some targeting going on.

"You worry about that."

Washington goaltender Darcy Kuemper said players are probably going to have to accept being "a little more up front" when it come to ailments.

"That really is going to affect how people put their money on games," he said. "Just have to live with that and hope (players) can have enough respect for each other to not target specific areas."

Colorado centre Nathan MacKinnon said that's a big ask when the stakes are high.

"If you're going to play through something in the playoffs, you don't want everyone knowing your finger's broken,” he said. “They're going to slash you.

"I've known players with injuries on the other team and I haven't said anything. I don't really go looking to hurt anybody."

Columbus defenceman Zach Werenski said opponents will look for any advantage.

"You saw what happened to Draisaitl," he said. "As a healthy player, you're probably saying, 'Oh, HRR … let's get it going, let's grow it.' But there's definitely two sides. I'd probably err on the side of caution."

He added there's nothing wrong with targeting a player battling an injury by legal means between whistles.

"You'd almost rather not know and just go at a guy hard and play fair," Werenski said.

"The NHL is pretty vague about injuries."

But Philadelphia winger Cam Atkinson added the days of keeping that information in-house are mostly gone.

"There's no secrets," he said. "Even if you're best friends with whoever on a different team, whether that guy fills you in with information or not, word gets out pretty quickly.

"Nature of the beast."

KARLSSON'S SIZZLING START

San Jose defenceman Erik Karlsson sits second in the NHL behind McDavid with nine goals in 12 games.

The 32-year-old, who won the Norris Trophy in 2012 and 2015, leads all blue-liners with 15 points after registering his first-career hat trick Tuesday.

WRIGHT WATCHES

Seattle rookie Shane Wright has dressed for just five games, averaging a paltry six minutes 51 seconds of ice time.

The No. 4 pick at the 2022 NHL draft, who notched his first professional point with an assist Oct. 19, has been a healthy scratch in four straight contests.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2022.

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Joshua Clipperton's weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press