Injuries That Will Have the Biggest Impact on the 2013-14 NHL Season
NHL general managers understand that player injuries are part of their lot in life. No matter how carefully they craft their lineups and allocate their precious salary-cap dollars, a single injury can quickly turn their team's best-laid roster plans upside-down.
Before the 2013-14 campaign even begins, NHL organizations are facing challenges due to injuries—new ones suffered in preseason, offseason training injuries and lingering issues carrying over from last year.
Here's a look at the eight players currently on the shelf whose absences will cause the most hardship for their teams when the regular season kicks off next week.
8. Sheldon Souray: Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks vaulted from 25th in the NHL standings in 2011-12 all the way to third overall last season. The only dark spot in their year was their unexpected first-round playoff ouster by the Detroit Red Wings.
Sheldon Souray was one of many Ducks whose fortunes rose along with his team. Anaheim is now without his services for four to six months after he tore a ligament in his right wrist during an off-ice workout in August.
With his booming point shot, Souray was an important part of Anaheim's third-best NHL power play in 2012-13. The Ducks have a solid defensive corps, but no one can exactly slot into Souray's role. Bruce Boudreau will face some challenges in deploying his special teams until Souray is ready to return.
7. Cal Clutterbuck: New York Islanders
The New York Islanders had big plans for Cal Clutterbuck when they acquired him in a trade from the Minnesota Wild last summer, then signed him to a four-year, $11 million contract.
Clutterbuck was a linemate of Islanders captain John Tavares when the two played junior with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL—Tavares has seen Clutterbuck's crash-and-dash style firsthand. Unfortunately, Islanders fans will have to wait for the feisty winger to make his debut with the team. He suffered a skate laceration during a preseason game and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
The Islanders are a deeper team than they've been in a long while, but Clutterbuck's aggressive presence will be missed as the season gets underway.
6. David Booth: Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks acquired David Booth in 2011 with the hope that he'd add scoring and speed to the team's offense.
Instead, Booth has become a perpetual injury machine.
He managed 56 games for the Canucks in his first season, scoring 16 goals and 29 points. After last year's lockout, Booth injured his groin at Vancouver's first practice and missed more than a month at the beginning of the season. After getting into the lineup for just 12 games and scoring only one goal, Booth then suffered a season-ending ankle injury in mid-March.
Booth diligently rehabbed the ankle all summer, but it was deja vu all over again when he blew out his groin during his first practice with the Canucks this year, on September 21. If history is any indication, it's quite possible that he'll miss significant time this season as well.
The Canucks have grown accustomed to getting by without Booth, but it's tough to get a sense of the team's true potential when one of its most important offensive weapons perpetually sits on the sidelines.
5. Raffi Torres
Eyebrows were raised when the San Jose Sharks acquired perennial offender Raffi Torres at the 2013 trade deadline, but Torres fit nicely into the Sharks lineup. He was playing good hockey until being suspended for his hit on the Los Angeles Kings' Jarret Stoll during the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Sharks were eliminated in seven games, but general manager Doug Wilson was happy enough with what he'd seen from Torres to award him a three-year, $6 million contract over the summer.
San Jose will need to make do without its top energy player to start the season. Torres suffered an ACL injury during a preseason game on September 20 against Anaheim. He'll miss anywhere from six weeks to four months, depending on whether he has surgery, according to the Toronto Star.
The Sharks are deep at forward and another new addition, Tyler Kennedy, is showing that he's also capable of stirring things up. But the Sharks were tougher to play against last year with Torres in the lineup than without. They'll be eager to get him back.
4. Nathan Horton: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets signed Nathan Horton to a seven-year free-agent contract in July with full knowledge that the big winger needed shoulder surgery to repair damage from the end of the regular season and the 2013 playoffs.
As a result, the Jackets aren't expected to debut their prize until December.
The Blue Jackets finished strong at the end of last season. After re-signing Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, they hope to keep the momentum going in their new home in the Eastern Conference.
Will the Blue Jackets start well enough to keep their fans patient while they wait for Horton to make an appearance?
3. Corey Tropp: Buffalo Sabres
Corey Tropp is a 24-year-old journeyman with 32 NHL games on his resume going into this season. TSN.ca is reporting that Tropp is out indefinitely with a broken jaw.
In this case, the player himself is not a key member of his team's roster. Davis Harper did not even mention Tropp's name in his Buffalo Sabres season preview for NHL.com.
Tropp's injury, however, is huge news. His fight with Jamie Devane on September 22 sparked the line brawl between the Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs that led to suspensions for David Clarkson and Phil Kessel and a fine for Buffalo head coach Ron Rolston.
Clarkson's suspension led directly to the Leafs signing Mason Raymond as an extra forward going into the regular season. The brawl heats up a rivalry between two neighbouring teams that has been dormant for many years. Additionally, the whole situation has kicked the NHL's disciplinary and public relations departments into high gear.
Is this a sign of what's to come once the games actually start to mean something?
Sam Gagner: Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers are rich with young forwards. As Sam Gagner headed toward restricted free agency near the end of 2012-13, rumours were rife that the center could be on his way out, as the Edmonton Journal's David Staples outlined in March.
As it turned out, Gagner stayed with the team and signed a new three-year, $14.4 million contract over the summer. By late August, oilersnation.com was reporting that Gagner was about to be named Edmonton's next captain.
If true, those plans may have taken a twist when Gagner's jaw was broken by the reckless high stick of the Vancouver Canucks' Zack Kassian on September 21. Gagner is out indefinitely and tweeted a gnarly photo of his disfigured face before surgery.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also on the shelf, the Oilers will miss Gagner. His injury will likely accelerate Taylor Hall's conversion from wing to center, with other roster dominoes also falling accordingly.
Tomas Vokoun: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins' goaltending situation got murkier when backup Tomas Vokoun was admitted to hospital on September 21 for emergency surgery to remove a blood clot near his pelvis.
Vokoun spent three months on blood thinners to deal with this condition back in 2006, according to this article from ESPN.com, so it's possible that his return could be some time away.
The veteran Czech netminder played 20 games during the 2012-13 regular season, then bailed out the Penguins in their first-round playoff series after Marc-Andre Fleury faltered against the New York Islanders. His steady presence will be missed on the ice and in the dressing room.
For the moment, it looks like Pittsburgh will fill Vokoun's spot with 26-year-old journeyman Jeff Zatkoff. He was strong in his preseason win against the Chicago Blackhawks on September 24.
If Fleury gets off to a slow start and Vokoun is out for any amount of time, don't be surprised to see the Penguins sniffing around the goalie market.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter for lots more news from around the NHL.