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Lamoriello adds old Devils Asst. GM Pellegrini; both in NHL concussion suit

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Here’s hoping our new Devilish overlords have learned about head injuries.

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
“He’s a friend of ours.”

The Lamoriello-fication of the New York Islanders continues apace, with the team announcing that Steve Pellegrini has joined as an assistant general manager. Pellegrini, who worked alongside Lou Lamoriello with the New Jersey Devils beginning in 2006, moves from the Devils to reunite with Lou and Lou’s son, Chris, who is also an (incumbent) assistant general manager with the Islanders.

With the Devils, Pellegrini worked on “contract negotiation/salary arbitration preparation, collective bargaining agreement/salary cap compliance, scheduling and scouting,” and prior to that he worked with the league office’s Central Registry Department (1998-2006), serving on the league’s CBA negotiating committee and assisting on CBA rules and regulation enforcement.

So, you know how many think Lamoriello gets his own rules? Well, his other insider is now on the Isles side.

We’ll see what this means, if anything, for Kerry Gwydir, who was former general manager Garth Snow’s longtime assistant and reported contracts/CBA expert.

Ugly Concussion History with the New Executives

But more interestingly, the elder Lamoriello and Pellegrini join the Isles right as their names are surfacing again in coverage of the on-going concussion lawsuit against the NHL. [Insert your “Of course the Isles add a management legend right as his name starts appearing in the papers” lament here.]

You may remember TSN’s series last month about the years-long suit, after reviewing 31 depositions from the case that were made publicly available, included video and quotes from Lamoriello’s deposition about the Devils and Mike Peluso.

Peluso, who is suffering several life-altering debilitations that his suit alleges are the result of his NHL career, said he was pressured to return to the lineup and fight even while experiencing the effects concussions.

Lamoriello sounded genuinely surprised by Peluso’s accusations, and his responses under questioning demonstrate one of the reasons he and Gary Bettman get along just great.

Special Treatment?

Katie Strang of The Athletic wrote about the suit further in a piece published today, including more about Lamoriello and Pellegrini in their roles with the Devils. In particular, from the depositions there is evidence that three teams were not following the NHL concussion protocol back in 2007, when the two new Islanders executives were with the Devils:

And though these depositions reference penalties to both the Flames and the Canadiens, testimony indicates the Devils were neither fined nor disciplined for their infractions.

Of the three teams, the Devils were most frequently mentioned in relation to noncompliance. Both deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHL counsel Julie Grand acknowledged in their respective depositions the Devils’ failure to follow certain standards — and in at least one case joked about it.

You know how I made that Lamoriello-Bettman quip earlier? Here’s another example, from The Athletic’s review of the depositions, about why the Devils were not performing the league-mandated baseline testing in preseason:

“So just to be clear, the one year that the Devils did not perform baseline testing at the — before the start of the season, when did the Devils actually perform the baseline testing on those players?” Stuart Davidson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the concussion suit vs. the NHL, asks Lamoriello.

LAMORIELLO: Postseason.”

DAVIDSON: “Postseason. Does that mean during the playoffs or at the end of the entire season inclusive of the Stanley Cup?”

LAMORIELLO: “It would be at the end of the season.”

Clever!

To be fair to Lamoriello, in Strang’s piece she noted Bryce Salvador’s testimonial in the Players Tribune where he thanked Lamoriello for his patience with him as Salvador recovered from a head injury that gave him vertigo-like symptoms.

Of course, maybe that kind — and legally compliant -- treatment of Salvador was Lamoriello learning from past oversights. Because these accusations about how the Devils under Lou handled head injuries are not new, and not rare. Here is just one report from 2006, via the Post (emphases mine):

A report is surfacing that another dispute over a head injury immediately preceded Lou Lamoriello’s waiver and demotion of Alexander Mogilny in January.

The report claims the two “discussed” at high volume the scratching of Mogilny on Jan. 3, the date Patrik Elias returned to the Devils’ lineup from hepatitis. Mogilny was listed as a healthy scratch, but the report suggests he was annoyed by that designation and wanted the team to list him as a concussion case.

Mogilny was struck on the chin by a puck in Washington on Nov. 11, leaving that game and missing the next four. He played the next 20 straight, but hasn’t played in the NHL since Dec. 31.

The Devils have developed a reputation for reflexively rejecting concussion as a diagnosis without overwhelming evidence. They insisted in 2002-03 that Oleg Tverdovsky was suffering a flulike ailment until Tverdovsky flew to Montreal on his own dime to consult a leading head-injury specialist. Even Scott Stevens’ post-concussion syndrome was first termed a flulike ailment in 2003-04, when he returned to action in the 2003 playoffs after being felled by a slap shot to the head.

The suspicion is the Devils resist the mandated protocols, tests and rest periods the league has instituted for concussion cases. Mogilny did not play for Albany until Jan. 12.

The whispering campaign around Devildom was that Mogilny was a bad egg in the locker room, a claim that was hard to believe.

Honestly, it was pretty distasteful back then, and looks reprehensible in retrospect.

However, to be charitable to these parties, it’s taken a long time for “old school” hockey people (and fans) to learn and realize the actual devastating effects of head injuries, and how to spot them. Some still aren’t there yet, somehow.

Back then, as hard as it is to believe considering many had already sounded the alarm, some very respected names in the game still saw the after-effects of concussions as character flaws.

“Come on, shake it off for the team!”

Especially misunderstood was that a player could come back from a concussion quickly, only to suffer even worsening symptoms as a result. That’s where old schoolers would think, “Come on, you already came back from it, what’s the problem?”

It’s that kind of thinking that probably put Mogilny, an offensively gifted Russian, under “bad egg” scrutiny while good ol’ tough Canadian boy Peluso’s struggles went unnoticed. Simply did not compute.

Where once many of us dismissed these injuries with cute phrases like “he just got his bell rung” and “well, keep your head up” — even when the assailant was a master of predatory ambush — as we cheered on violent fights and checks to the head, today many have adjusted with better understanding of the immediate harm and long-term consequences.

The league and teams have (slowly) adjusted too, while also carefully dragging their feet in every effort to avoid admitting liability or blame for past incidents.

So this on-going suit shouldn’t have any effect on Lamoriello or Pellegrini in terms of their roles with the Islanders. But it’s worth noting where the new Isles braintrust came from and how they handled this issue.

Because there may be new loopholes to weave through in the future.