Max Pacioretty was back on the ice today, skating alone in Brossard for 28 minutes, but before getting hopeful about an imminent return, fans of the Montreal Canadiens need to realize that not everything with concussions is so cut and dry.
One thing we do know, is that in order to get back on the ice, Pacioretty had to have had at least one symptom free day before working out, and one symptom free day after doing light, off-ice workouts, probably on a stationary bike. This has been the usual protocol that NHL teams have followed with players returning from a concussion.
If Pacioretty was symptom free after today's skate, then tomorrow he would escalate his work out, and continue to do so each day as long as he remains symptom free. The normal protocol is for that process to last seven days before the player can return to the lineup, however if at any point in the process the player experiences post-concussion symptoms or fails the baseline test, the seven days starts over again.
However, according to documents filed in 2013 of the NHL's 2010 concussion protocol, the NHL does not strictly follow this protocol:
While this seems vague already, the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement after the 2013 lockout is even more vague, and as long as a team doesn't publicly admit that a player suffered from a concussion, they're not held to any standard at all.
We saw this last season when Dale Weise was clearly concussed against the New York Rangers but returned to play right away, and perhaps even more egregious, David Backes was held out just two games after this hit by Brent Seabrook:
Assuming for a moment that the Canadiens operate differently than last year, and that Pacioretty recovers speedily, the earliest day he should return is Thursday, April 16th. That would hold Pacioretty out for the first game of the Canadiens' playoff run, which isn't too bad considering the nature of his injury.
One important thing to remember though, is that concussions aren't like regular injuries. You can feel fine one day, and be out of commission the next. With a player as important as Pacioretty, the Canadiens have more than just a responsibility to be careful with him, it makes more sense organizationally, long term.
It's possible that Pacioretty will feel ready to go for game one, but he shouldn't play. Realistically, it's in his best interest to be held out even longer than what is necessary.