The question is no longer, What do the Red Wings do with Johan Franzen?
It’s, What does Johan Franzen do for himself?
Franzen, the oft-concussed winger, got through training camp and the exhibition season feeling good—mentally and physically.
His latest recovery, from a hit sustained in January courtesy of Edmonton’s Rob Klinkhammer, was moving right along—after several months of headaches, nausea and general malaise.
As recently as a few weeks ago, a smiling Franzen said that he felt great.
But after just a couple of games of the regular season, Franzen called in sick.
“(Franzen) has had a return of some of the headaches and some of the symptoms that he has had in the past,” coach Jeff Blashill said last week after Franzen was absent for practice.
“I feel unbelievably for him,” Blashill continued. “He has been through a tough go. I think he is a great person. I know he really wanted to get to where he felt good about playing hockey. He worked hard over the summer to get himself into a good position, so I feel extraordinarily bad for him.”
If Franzen can come this far, feel this good and have so much optimism, after such a long recovery, only to be put back to square one (possibly), then it’s probably time to do some soul-searching, which I’m sure The Mule, as they call him, is doing now.
Forget what the Red Wings as an organization should do with Franzen’s roster spot, which is currently available after the team put Franzen on the 7-day Injured Reserved list.
This is about Franzen and what he chooses to do about his hockey future.
He’s 35 years old (he’ll be 36 in December) and even though as an NHL player he’s considered a grizzled veteran, as a human being he’s still a rookie, essentially.
He has an entire life ahead of him, so what quality of life does he seek?
Franzen said, as training camp began last month, that he wanted to go out on his own terms.
Well of course he does, but that may not be on the table any longer.
Frankly, when it comes to issues with concussions, a professional athlete rarely gets to go out “on his own terms.”
That call is often made for him, and often against his will.
Franzen’s latest bout of concussion-related symptoms is a huge disappointment for him, certainly.
This isn’t about proving for the umpteenth time how tough hockey players are. That needs no further demonstration. Everyone knows that hockey players get stitched up, glued back together and return—sometimes without missing a shift.
This is about the brain now. This is about what kind of life a 35 year-old man will have for, potentially, another 50-plus years.
Hockey is what Johan Franzen does, it’s not who he is.
I’m sure there will be another battery of tests. I’m sure there will be more doctors consulted. I’m sure the Red Wings will be willing to give Franzen all the time that he needs to try to get back onto the ice.
But ultimately, Franzen is the only one who gets to determine if there’s anymore hockey left in his addled brain.
I suspect that this will end badly, i.e. Franzen won’t be going out on his own terms.
He won’t be the first, and he certainly won’t be the last.