Injuries are already starting to take their toll on many NHL teams in this lockout-shortened season, and with very few quality free agents left on the market, the only options that are available for teams to address their weaknesses caused by such injuries are to make a trade or call up players from the AHL.
Since so many injuries are forcing teams to play without some of their top players, the teams with the most depth are the ones who will have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Let's take a look at five teams that have been hit hard by injuries in the early part of the year.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs earned their second win of the season on Wednesday by defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on the road, but the story of the game was the news about top-line forward Joffrey Lupul's injury.
Gord Miller of TSN provided us with the news:
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle says Joffrey Lupul has a broken forearm.— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) January 24, 2013
Lupul hurt his forearm by getting hit with a shot from teammate Dion Phaneuf. The Leafs defenseman has one of the hardest shots in the game, and unfortunately for Lupul, he was unable to get out of the way in time.
This is a major loss for the Leafs because they will be without their second best offensive player for quite some time now.
However, newly-acquired forward James van Riemsdyk rose to the occasion on Wednesday with his first two goals as a Leaf, and now, he will be relied upon to replace some of Lupul's offensive production.
The good news for the Leafs from Wednesday's game at Pittsburgh was the return of young star Jake Gardiner. The 22-year-old defenseman hadn't played in a game since mid-December when he suffered a concussion playing for the AHL's Toronto Marlies.
The Coyotes' injury list isn't long, but it involves their most important player, starting goaltender Mike Smith.
Smith left Wednesday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, according to Sarah McLellan of AZCentral.com:
Smith suffered a lower-body injury. He won't return for this game.— Sarah McLellan (@azc_mclellan) January 24, 2013
Smith has enjoyed remarkable success since he joined Phoenix for the 2011-12 season, and if he has to miss an extended period of time with an injury, the Coyotes will be in trouble.
Jason LaBarbera isn't a terrible backup goaltender, but he's not capable of carrying this team on his back like Smith.
This is one injury that everyone in the Western Conference will be watching because the Coyotes will not make a deep playoff run without Smith.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings blue line suffered another setback on Wednesday with the news that Ian White is unable to play because of a leg injury (via Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press):
Red Wings D Ian White out 2-3 weeks with gash to left leg from Tuesday's game. So that's White & Colaiacovo out at least a few weeks.— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) January 23, 2013
Head coach Mike Babcock has already had to adjust his defensive pairings this season with defensemen Jakub Kindl, Jonathan Ericsson and Carlo Colaiacovo also hurt.
The good news for the Red Wings is that two of their important bottom-six forwards could return to the lineup at the end of the week, according to St. James.
So, at latest, both Red Wings Fs Todd Bertuzzi and Darren Helm should be back Friday, enabling 3rd line of Cleary-Helm-Bertuzzi.— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) January 21, 2013
The blue line was one area that Babcock could not afford to have many injuries this season, and if the team's defensemen cannot stay healthy on a consistent basis, general manager Ken Holland will need to make a major move for a star defenseman.
Los Angeles Kings
The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings were already without top-four defenseman Willie Mitchell because of an injury when they learned that Matt Greene could miss a large portion of the season (via TSN's Bob McKenzie):
Initial prognosis from LAK this aft was Matt Greene was done for season but now there's talk it could only be a couple of months.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 22, 2013
Mitchell and Greene are two very important defensemen for the Kings, and without much talent in the AHL, general manager Dean Lombardi may have to trade backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier to add a top-four defenseman.
Bernier has enormous potential as a future No. 1 goalie, but finding a team willing to give up a star defemseman may prove to be a real challenge for Lombardi.
With so many teams losing defensemen to injuries in the first week of the season, there will probably be more buyers than sellers on the trade market.
The Flyers received some really bad news on Wednesday when it was determined that star forward Scott Hartnell, who led the team in goals scored last year, will be out of the lineup with an injury (via Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com).
Hartnell out indefinitely Holmgren says with left foot injury. So Flyers lose two players to injury and suspension before meeting nyr— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) January 23, 2013
Just like Lupul, Hartnell was injured when a teammate's shot hit him. With second-line center Danny Briere still not ready to return to the lineup because of a wrist injury suffered before the season, the Flyers may be forced to keep rookie center Scott Laughton on the roster instead of sending him back to the CHL.
Laughton has been impressive this season, but asking an 18-year-old to play an important role on a playoff contender is not ideal. General manager Paul Holmgren has two more games to go before the team will be forced make a decision on Laughton's role for this year.
After scoring the second most goals in the NHL last year, the Flyers have only scored three times in their first three games (two from Claude Giroux, one from Sean Couturier).
Philadelphia needs all four forward lines to improve quickly because the team has a very important home game on Thursday versus the New York Rangers, who won all six of their meetings against the Flyers last season.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report, follow him on Twitter.
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