In a tradition which has continued for four years running, the Colorado Avalanche have once again been one of the NHL's most injury depleted through the first 40 games of the 2010-2011 NHL season.
Here's a run down of the Avalanche's injury situation:
- Kyle Cumiskey: Missed the last 28 games with a concussion
- T.J. Galiardi: Missed 17 games with a wrist injury
- Milan Hejduk: Missed 7 games with a groin injury
- Cody McLeod: Missed the last seven games with a groin injury
- Peter Mueller: Missed the last 39 games with a concussion
- Kyle Quincey: Out for the season with a shoulder injury
- Christ Stewart: Missed the last 16 games with a hand injury
As devastating as the slew of injuries is, the Avalanche have been fortunate enough to get surprise performances out of their depth players.
Kevin Porter, who the Avalanche acquired along with Peter Mueller in the trade that sent Wojtek Wolski to Phoenix last season, went from fourth liner to first liner.
His strong play was highlighted by an overtime goal against the San Jose Sharks, a performance which he followed up with a shootout game winning goal against the Dallas Stars two games later. Porter's plus-8 rating ranks first among Avalanche forwards.
Another surprise has been AHL call-up Greg Mauldin.
The 28-year-old rookie has bounced around between AHL teams since being drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2002, but you'd never know it if you watched him play with the Avalanche: Mauldin has five goals—two shorthanded—and 10 points in his 25 NHL games this season, and is second among Avalanche forwards with a plus-7 rating.
So, when forwards Milan Hejduk and T.J. Galiardi returned from injury, the Avalanche, in theory, should have been an improved hockey club.
However, that hasn't been the case. Since Gallardi's return, the Avalanche have gone 3-4-1, which includes a 1-2-1 record in the four games since Hejduk has returned.
The problem doesn't lie in the fact that Hejduk and Galiardi's play has hindered the team—in Galiardi's case, he has four goals in his last seven games—but in that the Avalanche now find themselves with a surplus of similarly skilled players.
Kevin Porter and Galiardi play an eerily similar game, and Galiardi's return has forced Porter onto the team's checking line with Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik, a role which his skill set doesn't accommodate for.
Meanwhile, Mauldin, who's hard forechecking and speed was a good compliment to the aforementioned line, has been bumped down to the fourth line, and unjust placement for a player who's done so well this season.
As a result, the team—which was recently on a six game win streak—has taken a nose dive.
Eventually, the Avalanche are going to have to make some trades. The return of forwards Cody McLeod and Chris Stewart in the coming weeks will only make the Avalanche's forward situation become even more compacted, and things will get worse when the eventual return of Peter Mueller takes place.
To put things in perspective, David Jones, who's second on the Avalanche with 12 goals, may find himself in a third or fourth line role when everyone gets healthy; players like Porter and Mauldin may be relegated to the AHL.
Brandon Yip, who has seven goals this season, has already been nailed to the pine in recent games. Yet, when he's been in the lineup, he's primarily played on one of the Avalanche's top two scoring lines.
In need of a big checking line forward and a pair of top four defensemen, the Avalanche should consider trading some of these players while their value is the highest, rather than miscasting them.