NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.
Over the last couple days, Johan Franzen has been seen skating at Joe Louis Arena with his teammates as they get ready for the upcoming NHL season. This is one of his many attempts to come back from his most recent concussion that he suffered last season.
Detroit Red Wings fans have a short memory when it comes to Franzen. When he is healthy, he can be one of the most dominant scorers in the NHL, but he is often criticized for playing with a lack of effort and it almost seems unanimous that he is not a valuable player anymore. I admit, I started to fall victim to this way of thinking as well until I read an article a while back by Bill Roose on the Official Detroit Red Wings website in March, where he stated:
It is estimated that Franzen has had at least 10 concussions throughout his hockey-playing career.
Over the last few years, more information regarding the effects and severity of concussions have been brought to light, and the more I read about it, the more I think that some of Franzen's lengthy periods of inconsistency stem from these exact effects, especially his unwillingness to engage physically. Maybe I am just too nice of a guy and I am letting Franzen off the hook, but a big part of Franzen's game was going into the hard areas and out-muscling his opponents to score goals. This is all but negated when you are seemingly one hit away from being on the sidelines again.
Franzen has always been a streaky player, like so many in the NHL, but that doesn't mean that he is a "floater" or that he is "lazy". Steve Yzerman didn't give Franzen "The Mule" nickname for no reason. Franzen is a hard worker on and off the ice and has been an integral part of the Red Wings' success for many years. What we as fans need to realize is that although he has a contract that keeps him here until he is 41-years old (after this year his cap-hit goes down significantly), we also have a player that, when healthy, scores 25 goals a year for a very friendly average cap-hit of $3.9 million.
The concerning part for me is not his ability, it is his health. I would love to see what he can do with a healthy season this year and I do believe it would make a huge difference having him in the Red Wings' lineup, but I just don't know how many more brain-injuries he can sustain.
There was a period earlier this year where Franzen couldn't even get out of bed to play with his kids for over 2 months. As an outsider, it is easy to say that it is time for Franzen to retire early to avoid more serious damage like the Philadelphia Flyers' Chris Pronger did a few years ago, but it is hard to walk away from something you love. The competitive fire that burns inside of these athletes makes that decision even harder, as falling victim to injuries and being forced to retire may feel like defeat.
I really hope that his comeback attempt for this season is successful and that he can continue to contribute to the team just as he did before the injuries started piling up, but if he does fall victim to another concussion, I hope that he makes the right choice for his family and his future, to walk away from the game he loves.