NHL: Sidney Crosby and 10 Key Players Who Shouldn't be Rushed Back From Injury
The 2011 NHL playoffs are just around the corner, meaning injured players are doing their best to heal the bumps and bruises in the hopes of cracking the lineup. However, some players might want to think twice before rushing back.
Injuries in professional sports aren't merely a nuisance. They can be career and sometimes life-changing, and thus, they must be dealt with caution.
But we can't forget that hockey players are a different breed of athlete. These players aren't immune to playing with injuries like broken feet and torn hamstrings, injuries that commonly sideline other professional athletes.
Sometimes, taking it easy is the best route because of the value of that player to his team.
In no particular order, here are 10 players who will want to take their time returning to their respective lineups. Because we are so close to the playoffs, I've only included players whose teams are currently in a playoff position and I've excluded players who aren't expected to return this season, like Manny Malhotra and Anze Kopitar.
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.
Danny Briere: Lower-Body Soreness
Out of the injuries on this list, Danny Briere's is the least serious.
Briere missed Sunday's game against the New York Rangers with what was deemed "lower-body soreness." He isn't expected to miss too much time as a result.
However, Briere has put up a good season for the Flyers and sits third on the team in points and second in goals. With the Flyers' recent and worrisome struggles, they're going to need him healthy, especially with his success in the playoffs.
Last playoffs, Briere lead the Flyers with 30 points in 23 games. Spectacular numbers.
There's no doubt the Flyers will need a healthy Briere in the next few weeks. While their position to start the playoffs remains questionable, there's no point in overworking a playoff-proven player when a playoff spot is sealed. Might as well let the playoff schedule take its course and start with a healthier roster.
Dave Bolland: Concussion
A rough hit from Tampa Bay Lightning's Pavel Kubina has temporarily forced Dave Bolland to sit, leaving some big gaps on offense for Chicago.
Bolland was listed as having a concussion but he remains day-to-day. His availability for the playoffs remains uncertain, but in a season that has been defined by head hits, it would be foolish for Bolland to rush back, despite Chicago clinging tooth and nail to the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Bolland picked up a decent string of points prior to his injury and the second-line center has been missed since leaving. But these concussions that have dominated the injury lists can't be dealt with lightly.
Chicago will certainly take care of business, especially when there's a possibility Bolland won't be able to return this season.
Justin Williams: Dislocated Shoulder
Without the services of team-leading scorer Anze Kopitar, whose broken ankle will keep him out of the rest of the season, the playoffs looked grim for the Kings.
When his linemate and second-leading scorer Justin Williams went down with a dislocated shoulder, many felt all hopes for a long playoff run were lost. So there was a pleasant surprise amidst the Kings franchise when the media spotted Williams doing light skating and shooting drills on Sunday.
Williams opted to not have shoulder surgery with the hopes of returning for the playoffs. Any time surgery is bypassed, then there is certainly something more serious going on, and, of course, the Kings organization is smart to keep any specifics under wraps.
Williams has blossomed into his role on the Kings this season and while a long playoff run is always important, they will want to ensure Williams' long-term health.
Keeping him away from contact as long as possible will allow the muscles around the bum shoulder to strengthen, an important part of the healing process— especially because Williams will not undergo surgery.
Chris Pronger: Broken Hand
Chris Pronger has been the backbone of the Philadelphia Flyers' defense and his leadership, both on and off the ice, has been missed by the team since breaking his hand.
That said, there's a good chance he could make the lineup in the next few games. That is good news for the struggling team, but the future is a big reason to tell the defenseman to slow it down, especially after experiencing a flare up a few days ago.
The 36-year-old Pronger isn't getting any younger and he also carries with him a major seven-year, $34.45 million contract that caused a stir in the NHL world.
Pronger's size and confidence carrying the puck has done wonders to the Flyers, most notably in last season's run to the Stanley Cup Finals. It would behoove the Flyers to keep Pronger as healthy as possible in order to be able to keep him in the lineup, not only because of the cap he is ultimately using, but for the sake of the players as well.
Mike Green: Concussion
Washington Capitals offensive defenseman Mike Green no longer has concussion-like symptoms and has since resumed light on-ice workouts following a head hit from New York Rangers' Derek Stepan.
It hasn't been an easy ride for Green, who has missed games here and there since Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik hit him in the head with a slap shot. He then missed six-of-seven games and on the day of his return, he was on the receiving end of Stepan's hit.
As stated, Green has returned and claims to feel much better, but he ought to take it easy after multiple hits to the head injured a certain captain on his teams' rival.
Green hasn't had his greatest year this season, but it's undeniable that he's meant to be a major part of the Capitals' future. One bad hit is all it takes, even when the player is feeling better.
Just ask Marc Savard.
While the Caps are lucky to see Green making such quick progress, there should be no hurry to see Green return unless they want to put their defense's future on the line.
Patrick Sharp: Knee
Patrick Sharp was in the middle of a career year, on pace for a career high in goals, when his world came tumbling down.
Well, more like Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla came tumbling against his knee. He's been out since, but the team is hoping he might return before the end of the regular season, though it's anything but a guarantee.
Also without the services of Bolland, losing Sharp certainly stung the Chicago roster, but at least the injury wasn't as bad as originally thought. Knee injuries can be tricky and very unpredictable.
Sharp's services were greatly needed in last season's playoffs, when he was third best on the team in scoring and third overall in goals. Now that the Hawks are experienced in the playoffs, they have another threat to add to their arsenal.
There was a great amount of speculation whether the Hawks should let Sharp go following the Stanley Cup win. Clearly the decision to keep him in the Windy City has greatly benefited the team. This season may have marked a turning point in Sharp's career, not only in the NHL, but on the Hawks as well.
Keeping him away from further injury will be incredibly important, whether he becomes a franchise player or not.
Dennis Wideman: Leg Hematoma
Reports stated that Washington Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman was in the hospital with a "significant leg hematoma" following a game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Since his trade to Washington, Wideman has been an answer to coach Bruce Boudreau's defensive prayers. Wideman brought plenty of veteran skill and puck-moving abilities that would surely act as an example for the younger defensemen.
Poor defense was exposed two consecutive playoff seasons for the Caps, so finding a solid defenseman to lead the way was important to the team, and they found it in Wideman with immediate results.
But now without Wideman and Green, the team's top two puck-moving defensemen, the defense is relying on young talent to protect the blue line. That is a risk, especially as the playoffs near, but also a test.
In the end, Wideman's hemotoma required surgery to drain blood from the injury. Excluding the recovery needed post-surgery, Wideman's biggest demon to exorcise will be the pain.
Hockey players constantly play through pain, but this kind of pain is beyond the typical amount felt on a day-to-day basis. Wideman will need to take his time letting this heal; sometimes, toughing it out isn't always the smart answer.
Dan Hamhuis: Concussion
Green isn't the only player dealing with multiple head injuries in one season.
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis received his second concussion in two months on Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets from the big captain Rick Nash.
Despite the severity behind a concussion, Hamhuis and his teammates echoed sentiments that he wouldn't be gone long. Given his history, this could be risky.
As previously stated, concussions, especially this season, cannot be taken lightly because of the long-term effects they claim on victims. Vancouver signed Hamhuis to be a top-notch defensive defenseman who blocks shots.
Vancouver, the recent winner of this season's President's Trophy, has been playing some good hockey despite not playing with two of their top three defenseman. With such a good record, that should give Hamhuis a greater incentive to not feel obligated to rush back to the lineup.
A few extra games off could make a huge difference, especially since many have projected the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup.
Ryan Miller: Neck
Mum's been the word regarding Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller's neck injury.
All that's been really said is it isn't long term.
For a team that relies heavily on its goalie, this is huge for Buffalo. The Sabres won a big game on Sunday without him and if they can continue working some miracles, it could be a nice weight off Miller's shoulders. If the injury isn't long term, then it can be healed quickly, in time for the playoffs, while hopefully not missing too much of the end of the season.
Of course, the most use out of Miller will need to be the in the playoffs. The Sabres aren't the same team if he isn't between the pipes.
Simply put, the Sabres go nowhere if Miller isn't healthy in the playoffs. Might as well heal now or else their season will surely end sooner than desired.
Sidney Crosby: Concussion
Everyone, including non-NHL fans, has heard this story far too many times to count.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were handed jaw-dropping news when captain Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion en route to a season that would break not only Pittsburgh records, but NHL records as well.
For a while, there was plenty of speculation regarding what exactly happened to Crosby and what his future would behold. It even ventured to a possible early retirement.
That all disappeared when Crosby began skating, lifting the hopes of the fanbase that maybe he could return sooner rather than later. But then those hopes were shot down when GM Ray Shero announced that he wasn't expecting Crosby to return during the regular season.
Either way, the Pens can't afford to lose Crosby long term just for the sake of saving this playoffs, which already look unsteady without Evgeni Malkin, who is facing an ACL/MCL tear.
Crosby is the greatest player in the NHL today and losing him longer would be a great loss to the Pens and to the NHL. If this playoffs goes down the tube for the Pens because of it, so be it.
There are more important things at risk.