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Injuries playing a major role in NHL playoff race

 

The 2007-2008 NHL. A tight race right to the end in almost every division. Another breakout season for brand new rookies. New jerseys around the league.

And a season overflowing with injuries from almost every team.

At one point this season, nearly all of the Vancouver Canucks’ defensive line was out with injuries. Chicago lost dozens of players throughout the season including standout rookie Jonathan Toews, who missed a significant amount of games due to knee injury. Philadelphia’s Mike Richards, known for his newly extended 12-year contract, missed about three full weeks with a hamstring injury. RJ Umberger and Randy Jones have replaced Richards on the injured list, Umberger with sprained knee and Joes with an injured hip flexor. The Colorado Avalanche’s revolving injury door was almost comical to a point, capped off with rather long-term injuries to many top tier players including Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny, Ian Laperriere, and captain Joe Sakic. The Avs also suffered season ending injuries to top goal scorer, Marek Svatos, and go-to defensemen, Brett Clark, and out of their three trade-deadline acquired additions, only one remains in the current lineup. Only Andrew Brunette and Scott Hannan have played in every game this season for the Colorado Avalanche.



Richard Zednick’s horrifying carotid artery laceration wasn’t the only devastating event the Florida Panthers saw this season: They currently lead the NHL in man-games lost to injury. All-Star Shawn Horcoff and veteran defensemen Sheldon Souray of the Edmonton Oilers are out for the rest of the season with shoulder injuries and the Oil, along with the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, and Pittsburgh Penguins, have been forced to watch injury after painful injury make its impact upon their team.

It’s no wonder the NY Islanders have fallen from playoff contention. When starting goaltender Rick DiPietro had season-ending hip surgery last week, he joined 10 of his teammates on the injury list and pushed the Islanders into the lead for most present injuries in the NHL.

Pittsburgh’s captain Sydney Crosby went down on January 18th of this year with a high ankle sprain. He has yet to get back to full strength and is currently listed as day-to-day.

Minnesota’s Kurtis Foster is done for the season with a broken leg.

Rob Blake, captain of the LA Kings, missed 11 games with an ankle injury. Kings’ Young-Star Jack Johnson will miss the rest of the season with a fractured foot.

The players and injuries listed above represent only a small sample of the true story surrounding injures during the 2007-2008 NHL Season. That fact alone should be shocking enough.

Injuries in sports happen. Players will tell you it is just an unfortunate part of the game. In the NHL, a player’s job is to step onto the ice and play to his full ability game after game with a promise that he will be checked into the boards, battled for the puck, shoved from every direction, and encouraged to push his body to the limit. All of the training and conditioning in the world cannot protect players from mishaps, accidents, intentional injuries, or the unfortunate, unlucky pull, strain, sprain, or fracture. But the injury list this season seems to go on and on (and on…and on) and ostensibly without end. Every week appears to come with news of another team’s lamentable loss. Is this part of the new faster, tougher NHL or simply a coincidence? Will it decrease with time or become a longterm, sustained issue plaguing the NHL?

Fairness regarding injuries only extends to the fact that they happen to every team, at some point, during the season. Each team must suffer the absence of a piece to their overall picture, learn how to compensate, and sink or swim because of it. That’s just how it goes.

It’s a leap to say some teams are having amazing years in part because their injury tally is low, but perhaps there is some true to that point as well. The Canadiens, who lead the East, are third from the bottom in man-games lost to injury and the Detroit Red Wings, who have all but clinched the President’s Trophy, are in the bottom one-third of the injury list. The Rangers and Senators, who are in fifth and sixth place, are also fifth and sixth, respectively, from the bottom of the list of amassed injuries this season. Having a healthy team may not be the only key to remaining in playoff contention (see Boston, Edmonton, Colorado, and Pittsburgh who all place in the top ten of man-games lost to injury), but it most certainly plays a role.

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Imagine how different the season could have been if certain teams weren’t so injury plagued. Would Chicago be in playoff contention? Would Florida have stepped out of its slump? Would Alexander Ovechkin’s 60-goal season have included an early, guaranteed playoff seat?

Where would the Maple Leafs sit in the Eastern Conference? Could the Avalanche’s place in the playoff standings be more secure? Would the Oilers currently be fighting with Nashville and Colorado for a playoff berth or would they be sitting comfortably somewhere in the middle of the playoff pack?

Whatever may have happened this season, with or without injuries as a factor, it’s all possible in the coming seasons. There is no telling which team will top the Man-Games Lost to Injury list next year, which teams will have to battle through losing teammate after teammate in the coming season.

Only one thing surrounding the topic of injury is certain: Its place in the NHL is as permanent as a hockey legend and will remain as long as the NHL is in existence; the unwanted teammate, the unfortunate factor, the unwelcome force. Change will only evolve from which team the injury bug chooses to bite next.

 

By Shaela Moen
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer

 

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