Several different factors must come together for a team to win the Stanley Cup, the least of which isn't health. With the 2013 NHL playoffs just around the corner, even a casual glance at the IR raises some eyebrows.
The shortened season has been a taxing one, with players not getting nearly the amount of rest and time off between games that they are used to, and that has certainly impacted the overall health of the league as a whole.
Few things are more disheartening than seeing your favorite team make the postseason, only to look on in horror as the best player on the team goes down with an injury just before the puck drops on the opening round.
Some teams are worse off than others at this stage of the game, however, as some squads have lost considerable depth to injury, while others have lost one of its best players.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season. They made huge additions leading up to the deadline, acquiring forwards Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla and added depth and snarl on defense with Douglas Murray.
Morrow and Iggy give the Pens nearly unmatchable depth up front—when they are collectively healthy.
The first and most obvious question mark is Sidney Crosby. Can Pittsburgh win without him?
If we've learned anything about this team over the last few years, it's the answer to that question. Sure they can win without him, but the games tend to look a lot easier when Crosby is out there skating circles around the opposition.
He's been cleared to practice nearly a month after taking a deflected puck to the jaw (per ESPN.com). How quickly can he get into game shape after sucking down nothing but milkshakes and slushies for the last few weeks?
Fellow top-six forward and goal-scoring machine James Neal is still on the mend as well after taking an elbow to the head from the New York Ranger's Michael Del Zotto earlier in April. He was supposed to miss at least three games with a concussion but has yet to participate in a full practice (per CBSSports.com).
Paul Martin could be close to returning after missing Pittsburgh's last 12 games with a broken bone in his hand, which is good news considering Brooks Orpik is still day-to-day with a lower body injury (per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the most banged-up teams during the regular season. They've yet to play a consistent amount of games with their entire third line and have had guys in and out of the lineup on a nightly basis, trying to win with a rotating cast of role players.
The Wings likely won't see Darren Helm return to the lineup this season (per the Detroit Free Press). That's a huge loss, as Helm is one of the better third-line players and penalty killers in the NHL when healthy.
Todd Bertuzzi is inching closer to return and has wanted to play in both of Detroit's games this week. He's been working hard with trainers and could finally shake his back and leg problems in time for the playoffs—granted Detroit makes the postseason (per MLive.com).
One guy in, one guy out though, as the carousel continues for the Wings. Drew Miller broke his hand against the Vancouver Canucks last week and is done for the year (per MLive.com). While not an All-Star, Miller is a dependable depth forward and has become one of Detroit's best penalty killers over the last few seasons.
The Wings surely took a big sigh of relief when Johan Franzen revealed that he didn't expect to miss any time after removing himself from a game earlier this week (per the Oakland Press).
Mikael Samuelsson can't seem to play a game for Detroit without getting injured in some way. He was signed during the offseason to man the point on the power play and bring his right-handed shot to the fray but has only managed to lace up the skates for four games this season.
He hopes to play a game before the postseason starts, but that may be a stretch for a Wings team that is desperately fighting for points to even make it to the dance in the first place.
After a season of rotating netminders, the Vancouver Canucks may finally be forced to settle on either Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider. Only this time the choice more or less makes itself.
Schneider, after firmly securing his role as the starting goalie in Vancouver, has been scratched recently due to a body injury of some kind (per CBC.ca). The Canucks aren't talking about it, clearly in full lockdown playoff mode, but the effect is that Luongo appears to be the starter heading into the postseason.
He's day-to-day, but this is just the start of another melodramatic playoff run in Vancouver, clouded and surrounded by goaltender controversy.
What happens if Luongo dominates in the first round and Schneider becomes available? Do the Canucks wait for the wheels to fall off of Luongo before going back to the guy that was supposed to be the starter in the first place?
Everyone in the room is a professional, but at some juncture they have to get sick of the questions surrounding these two. The playoffs aren't exactly the best of times to continue working through this issue, but the Canucks really have no choice.
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa might not play another regular-season game but should be ready for Game 1 of the first round (per the Province).
Keith Ballard recently returned from a sore back, albeit at forward, and faceoff specialist Manny Malhotra is still on the shut down via Canucks management (per the Province).
Had the playoffs started a few weeks ago, things would have been much more gloomy for the Ottawa Senators.
Erik Karlsson hadn't made any indication that he'd be ready to return way, way earlier than expected at that point. Yet return he did last night in a must-win game against the Washington Capitals. That was some WWE stuff—a return so unforeseen and perfect that someone had to be pulling the strings behind the scenes.
The Senators also would've been without starting netminder and sub-2.00 GAA machine Craig Anderson. He's since returned from the IR and has provided the rock solid goaltending that they've come to expect from him in Ottawa.
Two out of three ain't bad, but the Senators are still without their best forward in Jason Spezza.
Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg have done an admirable job filling in for the injured Spezza, but how will the Senators fare after handing the keys to the car to these kids for a playoff drive? If the regular season is any indication, Ottawa could get by.
Spezza had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back and was expected to miss between four and eight weeks. His recovery hasn't gone as quickly as hoped, and the Senators may be forced to head into the preseason down one elite play-making center (per the Ottawa Sun).