NHL Teams That Will Improve Drastically After Getting Healthy
The 2013-14 NHL season has been riddled with injuries to players all over the league. While big guns like Sidney Crosby have managed to avoid the injury bug so far, entire teams have been unraveled by a few unlucky trips to the injured reserve.
Injuries are the greatest variable in any one season. Teams can have an all-star roster lined up, but if the players are not healthy enough to take to the ice together, then it doesn't matter a whole lot.
With the salary cap in place, a squad can only have so much depth, and contingency plans are nearly impossible to come up with when a No. 1 goalie or top-end center goes down for an extended period of time.
Some teams have been racked with injuries to the point of being unable to play to their ceiling, and they are squads to watch as they get healthy heading into the next quarter of the season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a talented team that lacks the depth needed to eat a whole lot of injuries up front. At the beginning of the year, players like Matt Calvert and Boone Jenner were forced out of action with injuries.
While those two might not be household names, they're solid contributors and a big part of the young core that the Jackets wanted to lean on this season.
Now that Calvert and Jenner are ready to play again, Columbus got hit with an injury to Marian Gaborik. According to the team's official website, he'll be out four to six weeks with a sprained knee. That means that two of the top offensive threats that the Jackets could roster will be on the shelf for the foreseeable future.
When the team signed Nathan Horton to a contract over the summer, it knew that he'd be undergoing shoulder surgery that would require months of rehabilitation. He has yet to play a game for Columbus, but this will be a much more dangerous team when Horton and Gaborik are back in the lineup.
Los Angeles Kings
Unlike the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Los Angeles Kings have the horses to deal with some injuries to outstanding players up front. They've proved that with their recent high level of play with Jeff Carter on the sidelines with an injury to his foot, but the Los Angeles Times is reporting he could miss another three weeks and is still in a walking boot.
Carter hasn't played since October 30, and he leaves in a hole in the lineup when depth players go down as well. Kyle Clifford isn't traveling with the team right now, and Matt Greene stayed in LA for the team's current road trip as well.
The biggest blow to the Kings came when it was revealed that Jonathan Quick had suffered a Grade 2 strain of his groin muscle, per USA Today.
The Kings have soldiered on without their top-end players, however. Ben Scrivens knows that he has his work cut out for him and that there's no replacing Quick, but he's played well for LA since Quick went down on November 12.
Tyler Toffoli has been phenomenal since his recall at the beginning of the month, and he has offset the loss of Carter with seven points in six games.
Last season, the Carolina Hurricanes found out just how important Cam Ward was to the success of the team. He only played in 17 contests last year, as the Hurricanes limped to a 19-25-4 finish. They were a lotto team and were able to select Elias Lindholm with the fifth overall selection at the 2013 draft.
While other players missed time as well, it was mostly Ward's absence that forced Carolina from a playoff hopeful to a top-five selection.
They were aggressive in addressing that issue, however. The 'Canes inked Anton Khudobin to back up Ward, and he was considered a serious upgrade at the No. 2 position.
Carolina couldn't have possibly seen this coming, though. Both goaltenders went down almost simultaneously with long-term injuries, which forced Justin Peters into the starting role. The jump from staring contests in the AHL to starting in the NHL for 10 games is tough.
Peters has done his absolute best, which has resulted in a 4-5-1 record.
Meanwhile, Jeff Skinner has struggled to remain healthy, and Lindholm has been banged up as well. Tack Radek Dvorak onto the long list of injured players, and you see why Carolina has struggled to piece together solid streaks of wins.
No team counts more on its goaltender more than the Nashville Predators. That means that this squad has one name in particular that it doesn't want to see on the long-term injured reserve: Pekka Rinne.
Nashville's worst nightmare happened when the big goalie went down with an odd infection in his hip. His progress and recovery have been slow and steady, but the Predators have struggled to win since the netminder had surgery on October 24.
The Predators don't have a rock-star backup (although Carter Hutton has done his darnedest), and they don't score nearly enough goals to get into a shootout with other teams. Nashville is in survival mode until Rinne returns or management bring in a stopgap in net.
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