NHL Returns: 6 Most Important Injuries to Watch
The NHL opened up action last Friday, and with the skating and shooting, come injuries. Hockey's speed is only one element that makes the injuries across the sport unique. One of the others is how they deal with injuries, both on the ice and in the training room.
There's a tradition of hiding injuries in the NHL that goes back even further than the Sutter family. The "upper body" and "lower body" injuries that hockey will admit to are often deciding factors in wins and losses. This season, it's likely to be even more key, as the short schedule will test conditioning and depth in ways we've never seen.
It is important to note that lockouts in the NBA and NFL did not increase injury stats in any meaningful way, but that is a broad measure. There was clearly an effect in certain cases, especially at the start of the season.
So let's take a look around the league at the injuries that could affect the way several teams start the shortened season.
Special thanks to the Sporting News' Jesse Spector for assistance selecting these players.
Sidney Crosby, Penguins
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Free of concussion symptoms? If true, Sidney Crosby's health would be the best news the NHL and its fans have received since the lockout ended. Crosby remains the game's biggest talent despite missing the bulk of the last two seasons with post-concussive symptoms.
Problem is, hockey fans have heard this before. Crosby's first return was short-lived, with the return of symptoms coming quickly after he returned to the ice. Crosby's controversial treatment regimen remains in question, so many will be watching to see if any of the balance problems return, especially after Crosby takes some hits. (Expect Pittsburgh to guard him zealously, as they did with Steve McIntyre in the past.)
If Crosby is healthy, that would make the Penguins immediate contenders in the NHL. Penguins fans and TV executives would love to see Crosby on the ice against Alex Ovechkin again, or a young talent like Steven Stamkos.
Matt Greene, Kings
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"Mid-body injury"? (via the LA Times) I guess the back is sort of the middle and that a season-ending back surgery is definitely an injury. It didn't take long for the Kings coach Darryl Sutter to dish out the euphemism when losing key defender Matt Greene.
Greene heads for surgery after being taken out in the season-opening game. Greene is not only the team's best defender, but was a rock last season, playing in every single game. The Kings are still waiting on Willie Mitchell to come back from knee surgery to shore up the defense as well.
Ryan Kesler, Canucks
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Ryan Kesler is coming back from surgeries on his left wrist and left shoulder. The rehabs are complicated by the fact that both came on the same side, causing delays in the process. Even with the lockout giving Kesler and the Canucks' medical staff some extra time, he's not ready yet.
Signs are looking a bit more positive lately, though the Canucks have been adamant that they're worried more about getting Kesler healthy for the long term. The repair to Kesler's labrum will be the key, as he just couldn't score while trying to play through the injury last season. If his shoulder is healthy, the shot should come back.
Marian Gaborik, Rangers
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John Tortorella opened camp for the New York Rangers assuring the media (Steve Zipay of the NY Daily News) and fans that Marion Gaborik would be back from his shoulder injury to start the season. Two games into the season, Gaborik hasn't been effective during limited play. Gaborik, like Henrique, is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Gaborik has always been something of a sniper, but is also quite injury prone. Gaborik was one of the first hockey players to have acetabular (hip) labrum surgery, similar to what Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees had last week. The motion of the skating puts particular pressure on the hips versus the knees in running sports.
Gaborik's style doesn't lend itself well to any deficits that might remain from the surgery. The Rangers are smart to hold him out if he's not quite back to 100 percent.
Adam Henrique, Devils
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Adam Henrique won't be back on the Devils' scoring line until February after November surgery on his left thumb. The Devils have him on injured reserve to start the season, as expected (blogs.northjersey.com). They'll be as patient as they can with the young center who helped them to the Stanley Cup Finals last year.
Scorers come back from this surgery pretty well and with Henrique already skating, the three to four-week rehab time from getting the cast off seems well underway. Henrique may lack a little power and control early in his return, but the Devils will give him plenty of chances to take his shot.
Josh Harding, Wild
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Josh Harding is in uncharted territory after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. While progress has been made with this terrible disease, there has not been an active athlete at this level that played through the diagnosis and treatment.
The Wild's backup goalie got a ton of action last season when Nicklas Backstrom went down with his own injuries. That is even more important this season, since goalies will need more off-days.
Harding believes he can continue to play while undergoing weekly intravenous treatments. How he adjusts to that and how the schedule of the NHL fits in with that treatment is going to go a long way in determining how effective Harding can be, as well as how much they may have to stretch the injury-prone Backstrom.
Harding got off to a good start with a shutout of the Dallas Stars last Sunday. He wants to be a starting goalie soon and many believe he has the talent. Teams will be watching to see how he plays early, while the Wild's front office will be keeping tabs on their two young goalies at AHL Houston.