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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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