Evgeni Malkin. Ilya Kovalchuk. Marc Savard. Patrik Elias. Marian Hossa. Simon Gagne. Johan Franzen. Daniel Sedin.
Some of last season's best forwards?
Sure. But they're also players who have already been injured this season.
Some of the NHL's best players seem to be followed by some kind of injury cloud. Malkin is the latest victim, expected to be out for weeks with a shoulder injury.
This season, successful NHL teams will probably have one common trait: depth among their Top-Six forwards. This season isn't about the talent NHL teams have—it's about the talent they have to fill-in for their injured talent.
Injuries are not new to the NHL. And it's a given that goalies are going to be injured, given the nature of their work. But have we ever seen so many top-flight forwards injured so early in the season?
Obviously, no team wants to lose their best player, or even just one of their best players, for any amount of time. But what's been interesting is how well all of these teams have managed to deal with losing major players.
Franzen is out until March with a torn ACL, and while the Wings aren't off to a strong start, goaltending has been more of an issue. Franzen is missed on the second line, but having Todd Bertuzzi as a fill-in is a pretty nice option.
Marian Hossa has yet to play a game for the Chicago Blackhawks and they're 7-4-1. (Rumor has it he wants to make sure they won't win the Stanley Cup before he'll skate with the team.)
And the Penguins will barely have time to miss Malkin with Jordan Staal in the second line center slot.
NHL teams have never been deeper and it's making for a fascinating season. Even in Atlanta, where they lost the irreplaceable Kovalchuk, there's a lot of hope in the play of rookie Evander Kane, who seems capable of holding the fort while Kovalchuk is out.
One positive outcome of the NHL's salary cap is that NHL GMs seem to constantly think about redundancy. Even as some GM sign players to 40-year contracts, other GMs seem to know just about every player can be replaced, and they're constantly trying to figure out how to replace talent in the cheapest way possible.
It remains to be seen how some of these teams will deal without star players over the long haul, but just the fact that a team like Atlanta isn't giving up on its season and seems to think it can make a go of it until Kovalchuk returns to the lineup is a great thing.
As teams see how unheralded players have the potential to step up, perhaps GMs will stop with the crazy-long contracts and the huge amounts of money. Maybe they'll finally see there's more than enough talent in the NHL and you don't have to pay a lot for a well-known name when you can get a comparable player at a much more reasonable price.
Maybe these injuries will show that the NHL has a lot more stars than they thought, and that entire team salaries don't have to be spent on six players. Maybe these injuries will show the NHL that hockey is actually a team sport.
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