Unfortunately, it’s in the nature of a game like hockey that there are going to be injuries that take players out of the game for extended periods of time. It does seem, however, as though some players become more afflicted with strings of injuries than others. Some players are a little more unlucky, or just put themselves in the line of fire more often than their teammates and find themselves on the Injured Reserve list for large chunks of each of their NHL seasons. Most of the time, these players are able to bounce back and still produce for their teams. There are, however, those players who are unlucky enough to have their careers defined by injury, or to have their careers never fully take off due to serious injuries.
The top draft picks every year are entering the pool of NHL players with the hope of eventually being the leading scorer or point getter for the season. These guys want to break the records and be remembered as the best. Unfortunately, injuries can get in the way of these dreams, and even though these guys come back into the league and play good hockey, they have either missed out on too much of their career or missed out on the important year of growth at the start of a career, to really put the pressure on the records or ever be considered the next “Great One.”
Has there been a player who would have rivaled the amazing stats put forward by the greats of the past who was taken out of the game far too early? Are there players now in the NHL who are comfortably riding their teams’ second line who could have been all-stars year in-year out? This list is a collection of just a few names that spring to mind when thinking about injuries that changed the course of a career for these players.
Sidney Crosby, for example, had us all scared during the 2011 winter classic when he took some rough hits to the head and left the ice gingerly. The fears were justified as Crosby ended up missing out on the rest of the season, as well as the entirety of the playoffs, along with the first 20 games of the next season. During the 2011-2012 season, the concussion like symptoms returned after a few hits and Crosby played just 22 games, though he racked up an incredible 37 points during this short spell. Crosby has been lucky enough to get past his injuries where as a lot of other guys in the NHL are not so lucky.
5. Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs. 2013/2014 Salary: $5.25 Million
When talking about injury plagued players in the current NHL, one of the first names that comes to mind –especially if you’re from Anaheim or Toronto – is Joffrey Lupul. Originally drafted seventh overall in the 2002 entry draft, to the then “Mighty” Ducks of Anaheim, he was expected to have a flourishing career in the NHL. Not only has Loops been afflicted with injury troubles, he was bumped out of the NHL almost immediately because of the first lockout. After spending a few seasons moving around, Lupul returned to Anaheim in 2009 from the Philadelphia Flyers, and the young winger started to hit his spell of injuries. After having back surgery in the December of that season, followed by a blood infection from the surgery, Lupul missed 12 months of hockey spread out over 59 games that season and 28 games the season after.
It can be hard for players to bounce back from that long of a stretch on the bench. Lupul managed to do so brilliantly once he moved to the Toronto Maple Leafs and was originally paired with Phil Kessel on the first line. His season with Kessel was good enough to earn him an assistant captain’s position on “Team Chara” in that season’s NHL All-Star game, in which he scored twice.
Lupul’s injury troubles had yet to subside however, and in the shortened season last year, he missed 25 games due to a fractured wrist (caused by his own captain’s slap shot). He always seems to return from injury firing on all cylinders, but always seems to be one step away from the injured reserve list. Lupul is a great example of one of those NHL players whose career could have been so different had he not been watching from the box in a suit and tie for the majority of his games.
4. Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers, 2013/2014 Salary: $6 Million
So this first-overall draft pick from the 2010 entry draft makes our list because his future is still uncertain. Hall is expected to be one of the bright lights on an Edmonton Oilers offense which, thanks to some poor seasons by the team, should be stacked with great players for the next few years. In his short career, however, Taylor Hall has already been slowed by several injuries that have caused him to miss several months at a time. His longest absence was following shoulder surgery which saw him miss nearly six months of hockey.
As it stands, Hall earns $6 million a year as one of the Oilers’ star players and has so far racked up 56 points in 53 games this season. This is a great sign for the young forward as injuries so early in a career can often spell disaster for hot prospects. Whenver Hall is on the ice, he usually averages over a point per game. Let’s hope he can spend more time on the ice than he does on the Injured Reserve list throughout the rest of his career, so that he can prove to the world that he is the player everyone thought he would be.
3. Marian Gaborik, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2013/2014 Salary: $7.5 Million
As the third overall draft pick in the 2000 entry draft with Minnesota, Marian Gaborik started out with consistent seasons of over 70 games, scoring 74 points (nearly a point per game) in just his second NHL season for the Wild. Contract issues, followed by the NHL lockout in 04-05, stunted Gaborik’s progress as a player for a few seasons, but as play resumed after the lockout, it looked to be business as usual for the promising winger. Out of the next four seasons, however, Gaborik only played over 60 games twice. Incredibly, in each of these seasons, and his first one with the New York Rangers, he averaged over a point per game with his highest totals being 83 points in 77 games for the Wild and 86 points in 76 games for the Rangers. Injury troubles, however, have threatened Gaborik’s otherwise amazing statistics throughout his time in the NHL. After several knee and leg injuries combined with some illegal hits into the board, his game totals for each season began to drop and in the 08-09 season he played just 17 games. Gaborik has already placed himself in hockey’s history books for a number of different feats. He is the Wild’s all time leader in goals, assists, and points. He also earned himself the title of MVP in the 2012 NHL All-Star game.
2. Peter Forsberg, Colorado Avalanche, 03-04 Salary: $11 Million
With a career as long as Forsberg’s, there are bound to be injuries that throw a wrench into the system, and he certainly had his fair share. Originally drafted sixth overall in the 1991 entry draft by Philadelphia, Forsberg spent the majority of his career playing for the Colorado Avalanche. His first season with the club saw him play every game, rack up 116 points, and have a +26 rating by the end of it all. This incredible form continued throughout his time at Colorado, as he consistently averaged well over a point per game and was usually playing over 70 games per season – until the 2001-02 season. Forsberg had his spleen removed and his health deteriorated as a result. This meant he missed the entire season. His first season back after the break was more of the same great hockey, as he played 75 games and managed 106 points, but after that and the lockout of 04-05, he never played the high number of games he was used to. After ankle surgeries and other injuries, Forsberg, at that point playing for the Flyers, only played 60 games once more and the rest of his seasons were all limited to less than 40 games. This was a career that ended a little muted thanks to a series of injuries, and it was a career that could have been capped by broken records which was instead ended by a series of injuries.
1. Eric Lindros, Philadelphia Flyers, 99-00 Salary: $8.5 Million
You can’t have a list of NHL injuries without including Eric Lindros. As the second guy on our list who is now retired from the game, the first overall draft pick of 1991 to the Quebec Nordiques, Eric Lindros played some fantastic hockey throughout his career – between various concussions and other injuries that is. Playing the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Flyers, Lindros showed great promise and was always an intimidating and dominating presence on the ice. is name still stands in the record books behind some of the game’s greatest players as he was the fourth fastest player to reach 300 points and 400 points, fifth fastest to reach 500 points, and sixth fastest to reach 600 points. Lindros frequently averaged more than a point per game and scored 40 plus goals in a season on numerous occasions.
Lindros’ longevity in terms of his career, however, was always threatened by injuries, particularly concussions. It becomes hard to track how many he had, as there were so many, but after the 1999 season, he was up to his fourth overall and second that season. In between his concussions, and once he was eventually traded to the New York Rangers, he had his first injury-free season, where he was able to average more than a point a game through 72 games. He seemed to be actually playing the kind of hockey he was known to be able to play. Lindros’s career however, always seemed stunted by injuries and after the lockout of 04-05 and a brief stint with the Maple-Leafs, Lindros retired at the age of 34 – an early retirement for such an elite presence on the ice.