New team physician appointed by Penguins
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The Penguins named Christopher Harner, who last week was appointed president of the American Orthepaedic Society for Sports Medicine, as new head team physician Friday.
He replaces Charles "Chip" Burke, who had been with the team since 1984 and had been the team's lead doctor since '88.
Although Burke came under criticism in relation to star center Sidney Crosby's medical treatment for a concussion and neck injury over the past 18 months, there is no indication that played a part in cutting ties.
The Penguins said in a statement that the switch is "part of an overall restructuring of the Penguins medical program -- a transition spurred by the recent announcement of the new UPMC performance training center and practice rink in Cranberry."
That facility is scheduled to open in 2014, and players will have access to UPMC doctors in more than 15 specialties, some of them replacing specialists who previously worked with the Penguins. Names of the incoming or outgoing specialists were not available.
A club official said the Penguins had no comment beyond the statement announcing the moves, and that Harner publicly would discuss the new setup at a later date.
It is believed that Burke, 57, worked under an arrangement rather than a contract. The specifics of Harner's relationship with the Penguins haven't been made public.
In a change in medical policy, Harner or one of two others on the team medical staff -- associate team physician Tanya Hagen and assistant team physician Dharmesh Vyas -- will travel to all Penguins road games.
In November, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was deemed OK by Canadiens medical staff to return to a game in Montreal after taking a hit to the head from Max Pacioretty. Letang scored the winning goal in overtime, but subsequently was diagnosed with a concussion and sat out 21 games.
Harner, an orthopedic surgeon, is one of the founders of and practices at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine on the South Side. He is a professor of orthopedic surgery at Pitt and has trained more than 80 sports medicine physicians as director of the UPMC sports medicine fellowship program.
Burke, an orthopedic surgeon who performed knee surgery on reigning NHL scoring champion and MVP Evgeni Malkin in February 2011, also has a long list of credentials. He has a private practice, Burke & Bradley Orthopedics, with Steelers head physician Jim Bradley. He has a long affiliation with USA Hockey, including serving as the team physician for the Americans at the 2002 Olympics.
He also is past president of the NHL Team Physicians Society and led the way in the development of the NHL concussion program.
It was Crosby's concussion, though, that led to calls in some quarters for Burke to be replaced. Burke was the point man and had authority to clear Crosby, although Crosby's diagnoses and a lot of his specific treatments were handled by several specialists, including Micky Collins of UPMC and others around the country.
Crosby took a big hit from Washington's David Steckel in the outdoor Winter Classic Jan. 1, 2011, but was cleared to return to that game and played in the next game, when he took another hit to the head from Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman. He was subsequently diagnosed with a concussion and missed the rest of the season. He did not play again until Nov. 21, 2011. After eight games, he was back out of the lineup until March 15. In the interim, he was diagnosed with a soft-tissue neck injury.
At a Jan. 31 news conference announcing the neck injury, Crosby said he was satisfied with his medical care, and general manager Ray Shero endorsed the team's medical staff when asked about the criticism.
"Every player that we've had is encouraged to get a second or third opinion on any injury that they had," Shero said. "One of the things to make clear is ... we're in constant contact with Sidney and the doctors. Everything goes through our medical team after he sees these other consultants. We're all in this together."
In their statement Friday, the Penguins lauded Burke and others who are being replaced.
"We ... would like to thank Dr. Charles Burke, who has been such an integral part of the Penguins medical team over the past 24 years," CEO and president David Morehouse said in the statement. "We appreciate all the outstanding services provided by Dr. Burke and his team of specialists and wish them the best in the future."
First Published July 21, 2012 12:10 am