Every year in every single sport, there are injuries that have a deep impact on their respective teams but also on their sports in general. For example, Sidney Crosby’s concussion issues and jaw fracture severely impacted the NHL roughly a year ago. Without one of its biggest stars in the Penguins' lineup, the league had to deal with smaller audiences at their flagship Pittsburgh games. Not only that, but the Penguins didn’t perform as well as they probably would have had Crosby actually been dressed.
Beyond that, injuries can have a deep impact on how a team does in the playoff standings. An injury to a key player at the wrong time can really handicap how a squad aligns itself for a playoff run, or even stop a team from getting the playoffs at all. But even more importantly, injuries can affect the sport on a fundamental level: remember Todd Bertuzzi? The whole Bertuzzi-Moore incident made lots of people think of what kind of role we really want violence to play in the game of hockey.
The 2013-2014 NHL season has been filled with injuries that really have affected the game from top to bottom. With 2014 being an Olympic year to boot, the Sochi Winter Games have found a way to impact the remainder of the NHL season. The debate about whether or not NHL players should be in the Olympics has never been so alive after Sochi cost some NHL teams a star or two. But the Olympics have only added to what has already been an agitated regular season.
5 Kris Letang – Pittsburgh Penguins
As this article is being written, the Pittsburgh Penguins sit in second place of the Eastern Conference and first in the Metropolitan Division. And although the Pens are well on their way to another high seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the fact is that they have been able to do all of this without their leading defenseman, Kris Letang. Letang, who has been out for seven weeks after suffering a stroke, has been cleared to practice with the team.
With Letang out, Pittsburgh was forced to tighten up defensively, and even more important, count on solid goaltending. Marc-André Fleury has been lights out this year, giving his team exactly what they need to win a game. As it stands right now, Fleury sits in first place in the league for wins (34) and is in the top ten for shots against as well as goals against, which is a testament to just how well the Pens have adjusted defensively since Letang has been out. With Letang now cleared to practice, there becomes a very real possibility that he could join his teammates in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. What really makes the rest of the Eastern Conference quiver is the fact that an already solid defensive squad could really gain a boost from having one of the league’s best defensemen back when it counts most.
4 Henrik Zetterberg – Detroit Red Wings
Mike Babcock’s system in Detroit has always revolved around having fundamentally solid players who can play tight defensively, and then break loose and make plays. That has been the Red Wings’ and Henrik Zetterberg’s calling card for many years. However, Zetterberg has been out since late February after having surgery on a herniated disk in his back, and could be out for the remainder of the season. The skilled swede was also hampered by injuries last season, and only played in 46 games.
But it seems that Zetterberg is a player that the Red Wings really can't live without. With his limited play, the Red Wings have only been able to produce 2.54 goals per game in the current and 2012-2013 regular seasons. Those are considerable dips compared to 2011-2012, where Detroit sat in seventh place in the league for goals scored per game with 2.92, and where Zetterberg played in all 82 games during the regular season. With the Red Wings looking to hang onto a playoff spot, Zetterberg is very much missed on a team that needs to score goals, now. If Detroit can get a wild card spot, or even a divisional spot, that could give Zetterberg enough time to recover from surgery and allocate the Red Wings offense a much needed boost.
3 Rich Peverley – Dallas Stars
On March 10th 2014, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Dallas Stars met for a game that was crucial for the Stars’ season. Lindy Ruff’s squad desperately needed an extra two points in order to stay in the hunt for a wild card spot in the Western Conference. After the game however, nobody in the entire arena was thinking about those two points. With 13:37 left in the first period, the officials stopped the game due to a commotion that was occurring on the Dallas bench.
Rich Peverley suffered a heart event during the game, which made him lose consciousness and hit the deck once he reached the bench. Coaches scrambled to get medical staff to Peverley’s side, Lindy Ruff even cried into the crowd, asking if there was a doctor on hand. Quickly Peverley was surrounded with doctors and trainers before being rushed to a local hospital, where he was stabilized and kept for observation. 6 months ago, Peverley had undergone a procedure for a heart irregularity that he had, and doctors speculate that he may even have had the condition when playing in the Cup Finals with the Bruins.
Two heart procedures in 6 months is very alarming… All this to say that the Stars are in the hunt for a playoff spot with a heavy heart (no pun intended), and will need to dig deep to overcome this emotional hurdle. But we all need to tip our caps to the medical staff for acting so quickly. Without them, who know what would have happened. This injury isn't necessarily significant for its impact on the quality of the Dallas roster, but rather, its significance lies in the fact that the hockey world has been shaken to its core.
2 Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning
Stamkos’ broken tibia on November 11th impacted much more than the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season: it shook the Canadian hockey world. All 35 million Canadians held their collective breath for the better part of two months, hoping that Steven Stamkos would be healthy enough to represent Canada in Sochi. Now, although Stamkos didn’t end up playing for Canada, the interesting twist of fate was only yet to come.
Fellow Tampa Bay teammate Martin St-Louis, who had been snubbed by Lightning GM and team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman during the team’s selection, found himself taking Stamkos’ place. Yzerman’s decision to pass on St-Louis, only to take him once Stamkos was ruled out from the tournament, rubbed the perennial All-Star the wrong way. The resulting friction between the two is probably what pushed St-Louis to demand a trade, and to eventually be dealt to the New York Rangers. Who knew that one broken bone could impact so drastically both the NHL and Olympic hockey landscapes?
1 John Tavares – New York Islanders
Tavares wasn’t injured during the course of an NHL game, and even if he had been healthy, he probably couldn’t have led the New York Islanders back from the depths of the Metropolitan Division to a playoff spot. So why is this injury relevant you ask? Well, for those who don’t already know this, John Tavares’ injury occurred during the course of the Sochi Olympic Games. He had to have surgery on his injured knee and is now forced to sit out the remainder of the NHL calendar. Since hurting himself in Sochi, a debate as old as time has resurfaced: should NHL players be allowed to take part in the Olympic games? With NHL executives already pondering the idea that they shouldn’t allow their players to participate in Olympic events, Tavares’ misfortune may indeed fuel the NHL executives’ arguments to stop players from participating in Seoul in 2018.
Reactions have come from every corner of the league. Islanders GM Garth Snow was understandably furious, suggesting that the IOC should reimburse Islanders season ticketholders for the loss of the team’s star. Others like Rangers forward Mike Richards came out as saying that injuries are a part of the game, and that representing your country in the Olympics is a dream come true that shouldn’t be taken away from NHL players. All this to say that the next four years will be very interesting for Olympic hockey.