Marian Hossa, Jordan Staal and the Most Fragile Players in the NHL
Hockey like football is a collision sport. The game is played at high speed, on ice. Injuries are going to happen. Resiliency in a hockey player is a virtue.
Gordie Howe played an 80 game season in the NHL at age 51. He was tough as nails, seldom injured, and could play with pain. Those traits allow you to survive a long career in the NHL.
Gordie early in his career suffered an injury that for many would have been career threatening. Playing the first playoff game against the Leafs back in 1950 he suffered a fractured cheek and nose, lacerated eyeball and brain hemorrhage. Doctors had to drill into his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.
Gordie came back the next year, played a full season, and won the league scoring title. Not everyone can do that.
Gordie represents one end of the spectrum. He is one of the most durable men ever to play the game.
Other NHL players always seem to be injured. The injury prevents them from playing or interferes with their ability to play all out.
Numerous factors come into play. Most players just aren't as physically immune to injury as Gordie Howe seemed to be. Nor do they possess the pre-steroid recuperative powers he managed to display.
Some players, the fighters, power forwards, the physical shut-down defensemen are hurt and ground down by the very physical nature of their role on their team.
Others just seem to be unlucky. Injuries find them no matter what they are doing or where they are.
This is a look at some of the current NHL players who have seemed dogged by injury throughout their careers. These are the guys you can never count on because at any moment they could get hurt and be out of the line-up for a long, long time.
Marco Sturm: LA Kings
The Prussian Rocket had a relatively healthy early career in San Jose. The speedster is a skilled checker who provided some needed secondary scoring to a talented Shark line-up.
He suffered his first big injury when he broke his leg near the end of the 2003-04 season and missed the playoffs. After the lockout he got dealt to the Bruins to fill basically the same role there as he had in San Jose..
While playing with the Bruins he's suffered a couple of concussions and a knee injury that took him out of the playoffs in 2009.
Last year he suffered leg injuries in January and then in the playoffs and tore his MCL and ACL. He has been out the line-up ever since.
Now that he has recovered the Bruins no longer have the cap space to keep him on the roster. He was dealt to LA for future considerations and even that deal was held up until Marco could pass a medical examination.
The Kings have to hope the 32 year old, whose strength in the past has been skating, will still be able to keep up. If he can and stays healthy he'll hopefully provide the Kings with another 20 goal scorer in their line-up.
Tim Connolly: Buffalo Sabres
Tim Connolly is one of the most talented NHL players that you never hear about. That is mostly because he is the NHL's occupational health and safety poster boy. He's either injured or on the verge of being injured at all times.
Connolly played most of his first four seasons injury free. Then he suffered a concussion that kept him out of the entire pre-lockout season. The first season back in Buffalo he missed 16 games due to a knee injury and then 80 games the next year due to concussion.
Since then a variety of ailments have hounded the can't miss star. Knee, rib, foot, groin and leg injuries have kept him out of games. Always in the background lurks the specter of a possible career ending concussion. You have to believe his play suffers because of it.
Last year Tim had his best season in the NHL with 65 points in 73 games. A point a game may be the most this 29 year old can aspire to now, but it would be nice to see this talented player stay healthy for the rest of his career.
Martin Havlat: Minnesota Wild
The talented Czech has never played a complete season in the NHL. The best he managed was in his last year of his contract in Chicago where he scored 77 points in 81 games.
Havlat has played seasons of 73,72,67,68,18,56,35,81,and 73 games.
He injured his shoulder as a rookie in Ottawa and it's a shoulder injury that is responsible for most of the games he missed in Chicago.
The point a game talent hasn't been injured yet this year. Minnesota has to hope he stays healthy and provides that offense all year long.
Jordan Staal: Pittsburgh Penguins
Since being drafted by Pittsburgh Jordan Staal has been one of the healthiest players alive, missing one regular season game in four years.
This season he injured his foot in October. As he was recovering from that he broke his hand in practice and the Penguins are still unsure when he may be able to return to play.
Staal represents a big cap hit for the Penguins so when he's hurt for this long he is a drain on the organization. It's tough to replace his skills in the line-up especially since Pittsburgh will be so close to the cap ceiling once Staal is playing again.
Rick Dipietro: New York Islanders
Dipietro like Connolly was becoming an NHL poster boy. In his case it was for multiple knee and hip surgeries. The last two years he got in 13 NHL games. He's played more minutes already this year than he managed in both those years.
After playing almost half the Islanders games so far this year he is out with a knee injury and is day to day.
Andy McDonald: St Louis Blues
Andy started his career in Anaheim missing games due to concussion. After the lockout he managed to play three full NHL seasons. Since then a broken left ankle, abdominal and head injuries have slowed him down. He's currently out with his fourth reported concussion that has resulted in lost games.
Steve Sullivan: Nashville Predators
Here in the same picture with Andy Mcdonald is the Predator's Steve Sullivan. Sullivan has suffered with a back injury that kept him out of the entire 2007-08 season and had him miss half of the next year.
He has returned to play a role in Nashville and has stayed healthy for the last two years. The tiny 36 year old is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year. It will be interesting to see who wants to sign this high injury risk player.
Peter Mueller: Colorado Avalanche
Peter Mueller is a young talented player whose career seems jeopardized by concussion. He's currently on injured reserve with the Colorado Avalanche.
Mueller has never managed to equal his rookie season in Phoenix when he scored 22 goals and 54 points. Still only 22 the hope has to be that he will be able to get his career back on track.
Andrei Markov: Montreal Canadiens
Markov's ten year career has been dotted with injury starting with a left knee injury back in 2003.
Last season however he began his year with a cut Achilles tendon in the first game of the season. He missed 35 games with that and came back only to suffer a ripped medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligament in a collision in the playoffs with Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Andrei returned from that injury in November this year only to damage his knee again after playing in only seven games. The fear for Andrei and Montreal has to be that he will never be able to play hockey on this knee again.
Marian Hossa: Chicago Blackhawks
Marion Hossa has been a relatively healthy NHL player. He has missed a game here and there over the years, but really the shoulder surgery in 2009 was responsible for his most time lost for any one injury (22 games).
The 31 year old has missed five games already this year with an upper body injury and is currently sitting out with the equally mysterious lower body injury. Hossa is currently in the second year of a 12 year contract that generates a cap hit in Chicago of 5.25 million a year. The Blackhawks would certainly prefer to have a healthy, durable Hossa for at least the first half of that contract.
Paul Kariya: UFA
It's amazing that the tiny perfect forward Paul Kariya survived as long as he did in the NHL. To everyone's surprise he out-lasted contemporary power forward and world junior hockey championship team-mate, the hulking Eric Lindros.
The concussion depicted above kept Kariya out of the Nagano Olympics in 1998 and was his fourth reported by that time. He's been side-lined for long periods of time for a variety of injuries (71 games due to hip surgery), but it's been concussions that have done him the most harm.
An unrestricted free agent at the start of this season, Kariya was suffering from some post-concussion symptoms and chose to opt out this year until he becomes symptom-free. A return to hockey next year for Kariya is not out of the question, but he may be better served by retiring.
Injuries certainly diminished what was still a very good NHL and international career.
Mike Komisarek: Toronto Maple Leafs
Mike Komisarek is that classic example of a physical defenseman who is always hurt because of his style of play. Like a Derian Hatcher or a Rhett Warriner he is constantly in collisions that now and then lead to injuries. Throw in a fight or two and Komisarek has only ever managed to stay healthy for one complete NHL season out of six.
The fear has to be that an aging Komisarek will simply get and more injured over time. Like Warriner or even Dennis Gauthier, he could reach a point where he can no longer hit players the way he does without getting injured himself. That's a problem when the best thing about your game is how hard you can body check other players.
Pascal Leclaire: Ottawa Senators
Pascal Leclaire for a time looked like one of the great young goalies entering the league. He was Columbus's first pick in the 2001 entry draft, eighth overall in the NHL. He had a great AHL career and despite knee, back and neck injuries early on, took over the starting job in Columbus in 2007-08. His nine shut-outs were second best in the league only to Henrik Lunquist's ten.
He signed a contract with the Blue Jackets but then was supplanted as the starter by the next goaltending phenomenon Steve Mason. That lead him to be traded to Ottawa.
In Ottawa he's been unhealthy, unlucky or both. He's suffered a broken finger, head injury, knee injury , groin injury and concussion since playing with the Senators. Leclaire was struck by a puck while sitting on the bench during a game against the Washington Capitals. The fractured cheekbone cost him 16 games he could have played in.
He missed nine games late last year due to a concussion and has been suffering this year with an injured groin that has him off and on the injured list. He's currently listed as day to day with a lower body injury.
Senator fans have to hope Leclaire will become more durable or pay off whatever karmic debt he's incurred and get a chance to become the goalie he looked to be when the Jackets drafted him 8th overall.
Marian Gaborik: New York Rangers
Gaborik is a GM's worst nightmare. He is a supremely talented forward who commands a huge cap hit and who is likely at any time to suffer a long term or even career threatening injury.
Gaborik's health can turn a general manager from genius to idiot with the strain of a ligament.
Gaborik is that rare more than a point a game talent in the NHL. The sniper has scored 30 or more goals in a season six times, twice scoring more than 40. When he's healthy and plays more than 70 games that's what he does. When he's hurt and he doesn't, he scores much, much less.
Gaborik has nine goals and 19 points in 22 games so far this year. He has missed 13 games so far mostly with a separated shoulder. In the past he's suffered through a lacerated thigh, a bruised knee, hip surgery, sore groins, a bad back, groin, groin, groin, hip flexor, groin, a hernia and a strained groin. The explosive nature of his skating style seems to be an obvious contributor to the injuries he suffers.
Marian is playing right now. If he can play and produce for the rest of the season that Glen Sather is a genius. If not....
A lot of the reason players are injured is the way they play the game; all out.