There will likely never be consensus on exactly when the Detroit Red Wings’ injury reports morphed from being regularly depressing to flat out comical.
However, the fact that they are now exactly that seems beyond dispute.
In what is sure to go down as the most frustrating season in recent Hockeytown memory, the Red Wings 2013-14 season is a picture of ill-health nearly too vivid to take in at first glance.
With 313 man-games lost to injury this season (according to mangameslost.com), the Detroit Red Wings have earned the dubious distinction of being the second-most injured team in 2013-14 behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.
That these two teams could be battling for the top two spots in the Eastern Conference was certainly conceivable at the start of the season—that they would rank among the league’s most injured teams wasn’t exactly what people had in mind.
While the Penguins (413 man-games lost to injury so far) aren’t likely to be eclipsed as the most-injured team of the 2013-14 season, they have managed to remain atop league standings and have run away with the Metropolitan Division lead.
The Red Wings, on the other hand, are very likely facing their first non-playoff year in over two decades.
The reason these two horribly injured teams are facing two completely different fates is entirely due to who among their roster has remained intact.
While Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have long since been shelved by season-ending injuries in Detroit, Pittsburgh still has the services of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
In this way, the sheer amount of man-games lost per team only tells part of the story; the true impact of those numbers is always made evident when looking at the players to which they’re attached.
Detroit losing its two best players for the season is bad enough, but the tragedy hasn’t stopped there.
As veteran players like Daniel Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi and Stephen Weiss evaporated from Detroit’s roster, the team was forced to get younger much faster than it's been accustomed to. As a result, they began to lean on younger players like Joakim Andersson and rookie Tomas Jurco.
As these players began to step up in the face of adversity, some hope was kindled that all may not be lost—until they too succumbed to injuries of their own.
Injuries have become a reliable disappointment in Detroit and counting on yet another player being felled by an injury seems more prudent at this point than expecting any of the injured to return.
In fact, in the month of March alone, the Red Wings have seen six regulars—the aforementioned Jurco and Andersson as well as Todd Bertuzzi, Jonas Gustavsson, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm—disappear from the lineup.
Add to this the fact that of the 33 players that have suited up for the Red Wings this season, only two— Drew Miller and Kyle Quincey—have done so for every game to date. That’s right, Detroit’s ironmen are a fourth-line winger and an overpaid, under-performing defenseman with a minus-10 rating.
Faced with these facts, there's really nothing left to do at this point but laugh—if not at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation, then to simply keep from crying.