Doug Weight is no longer going to serve as the Islanders' spokesman - the messenger to the fans - when it comes to injuries.
Since I'm a former Islanders spokesman who will always believe in professional sports teams doing the best they can to communicate with the public, you may find this surprising, but I completely support the position Weight has taken. Here's hoping he sticks to it.
To set the scene, this is what Doug Weight said Wednesday in Las Vegas when asked for updates on his injured players. The quote comes courtesy of Arthur Staple, soon-to-be formerly of Newsday (but coming soon to another outlet on the WWW…congratulations and thank you for your work thus far for the Country, Arthur).
"I am no longer discussing any injuries," Weight said. "It's been a long time coming. I try to do the best I can to update you [reporters]. I know it's your job to ask. When they say they can play or when they're healthy, they're healthy. Right now, we've got to win with whoever's in there. I'm not going to update anymore. It's kind of tiring for me as far as stickhandling around upper body, lower body. Whoever's in, I'll give you the lineup and that's that."
Weight obviously thought about this for a while before taking his stand. He's a good person who, even in grumpy moments, usually catches himself and follows up with a lighter comment and grin. It's clear this is an issue that's been on his mind, and he was becoming frustrated.
But here's the thing: he's absolutely right on this subject. He shouldn't have to discuss injuries. In the NHL, the head coach is mandated to speak to the press after every practice, morning skate, and game. It's not coal-mining by any stretch, but it can be a grind. (You might have hated it when Mike Milbury had those stints as coach, but it was notebook heaven for Pete Botte, Alan Hahn, Marc Berman, and the rest of the beat).
Nowhere in the NHL media guidelines does it say the head coach is obligated to publicly diagnose his players, or have to estimate how long a player will be out.
Weight, to his credit, was trying to be the good guy during his first year on the job. That's admirable. But when it comes to injuries, it's unnecessary.
The solution is simple, and every NHL head coach should do the same: the club's media relations staff - in conjunction with the team doctor, trainer, and general manager - should provide a daily injury update. The head coach and the injured players should be informed of what it says in the report, so everyone is on the same page.
And then that's the bible…that's it.
No more "We expect to have [player] back soon," only for the coach to look bad when the player doesn't. No more making the coach feel like he has to fib, putting his credibility on the line. When asked when the heck Johnny Boychuk is coming back, Weight simply has to say, "Please refer to the comprehensive report," or something like that.
It's challenging enough for medical professionals to predict how long a player will be out with a groin strain, high ankle sprain, or leg contusion. Why are we asking hockey coaches to get it right?
In compiling the report, ask the team doctors and GM to consider being reasonably specific about the nature of the injury. As Ken Hitchcock recently pointed out, the upper body/lower body stuff has become ridiculous. (Although, to be fair, Ted Nolan and I collaborated on "GBS - General Body Soreness" four Islanders coaches ago…guilty as charged).
While identifying the injury is the appropriate thing to do, the team should feel no pressure to provide an exact timeline. Why, exactly? Sure, it would be wise to assure the ticket-buying and content-consuming fans (and the player's family) if something is severe versus very minor, but otherwise, there's no reason for a guessing game.
(Pro tip: when a team says a player is out 6-8 weeks, most times it means the doctor has told them he'll be back in about a month. Better to have the appearance of a player coming back early and looking heroic, then the other way around).
As Weight said, when the player is cleared, he plays. Until then, it's up to the team to win with the guys they got.
The Islanders did that last night in Las Vegas by keeping things simple. Weight and the franchise have every right to take the same approach with providing injury reports.