Morning Mashup: Armstrong the Unenviable


Photo: Getty Images

When Colby Armstrong looks back on his career in Toronto, there’s a good chance he’ll remark that is was a pain.  How else can one describe the rash of injuries that has befallen the rugged right winger since coming to Toronto?  Since signing a 3 year, $9 Million dollar contract in the summer of 2010, he has skated in 59 games while he’s sat in the press box with casts, bandages and eye patches for a total of 56 games.  So lets take a quick look at the trials and tribulations of the oft falling Leaf.

Prior to his tenure in Toronto, Armstrong was considered something of a durable player, whose low mark in terms of games played was 72 split between Pittsburgh and Atlanta during the 2007 – 2008 season.  Yet he missed 32 games last season with a broken finger, an eye injury and a broken foot.  This season, he missed 23 games with a high ankle sprain, and after only 3 games back in the line up, suffered both a broken toe and a concussion on Saturday night. The concussion puts Colby amongst the growing list (now more than two dozen strong) of NHL regulars feeling the effects of head trauma.

For all his affability and being a great ‘room guy,’ he’s spent almost half his contract as a veritable non factor for the Maple Leafs and this will only add to questions about his necessity within the franchise.  If this concussion and the resultant effects linger, he may come back to be the most expensive fourth liner in the league after Scott Gomez.  Rookie Matt Frattin has managed to score with increasing regularity and seems to project as a solid third line winger for the club for the foreseeable future.

What makes the injury woes worse is the growing belief that Armstrong outright hid the severity or extent of his concussion.  This should really come as no surprise, and the dog and pony show that current NHLers are putting on trying to suggest this is an isolated incident in the league today should really come to an end.  Of course professional athletes do it.  The celebrity profession’s structure is no different than the rest of the world, its pyramid shaped.  Some people lie about their language proficiencies or technical competencies to ensure job security or promotion.  The only difference is that the stakes are higher.  Cynically and sincerely, Colby has millions of reasons to be deceitful.  Too many, frankly, to pillory him for.

What’s more, so many of us have done the same thing without nearly the reward or incentive in our own amateur athletic careers.  I had a football coach explain to me in high school the difference between ‘playing hurt’ and being ‘injured.’  The crux of this fine teacher’s argument was that the team as a unit was more important than you and that it’s noble to limp back into the fray, dripping in the Patrician machismo the school is renowned for.  That type of thought process is endemic to sports of all levels and must have played a factor in the decision for Armstrong to mask his troubles.

Right or wrong, Colby Armstrong wanted to contribute to this struggling team so badly that he may have been willing to put himself at further risk.  It’s his life and his prerogative, but he’s thankfully been visibly symptomatic and now accurately diagnosed.  Given the mood of the league regarding concussions, he’ll be encouraged to wait and recover until such a time as he thinks he can come back and play meaningful minutes in Toronto again.  The problem – one that TSN’s Bob McKenzie stressed as the ultimate reasons for the deceit – is that he might find himself unable to factor much in the Leafs future.  And saddest part is the tragedy couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.



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