Olympic Hockey Injuries That Will Have the Biggest Impact When the NHL Returns

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IFebruary 26, 2014

Olympic Hockey Injuries That Will Have the Biggest Impact When the NHL Returns

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Olympics can be a stressful time for NHL front offices as they watch their most valuable athletes compete for national glory, but at the risk of getting injured.

    While most of them got off easy, a small handful of teams got hit hard, with potentially dire consequences for post-season participation.

    Interestingly, the top three teams in our pre-Olympic piece about which teams were most likely to suffer injuries—Vancouver, Detroit and Pittsburgh—all got stung. These injuries not only affect those teams, but also those competing with them for playoff spots and/or seeds and those who are facing them repeatedly down the stretch.

    This list includes all eight significant Olympic injuries that affected NHL players and is ordered by their overall impact. This takes into account the severity of the injury, the importance of that player and how easily he can be replaced, and the chances of it affecting this year's post-season participants.

    Each slide also includes some analysis about that player's role and what his absence could mean to the team. Let's begin! 

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

Honorable Mention: Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Injury: Despite the impact, this choice warrants only a mention, because Henrik Zetterberg's injury didn't occur during the Olympics, strictly speaking. Zetterberg had already missed 13 games this season with a herniated disk, an injury that was aggravated in his lone Olympic contest with Sweden.

    Zetterberg is out for at least eight weeks for back surgery, but could return for the post-season—that is, if the Red Wings qualify.

    The Impact: The Detroit Red Wings may relinquish that final Eastern Conference playoff position, which they're holding onto by a single point. They would consequently miss the postseason for the first time since 1989-90, the season before Sergei Fedorov's NHL debut.

    Zetterberg has been Detroit's most important player this season. He leads the team in goals and assists, and his 48 points leads the team by 12. While this particular statistic has its flaws, Zetterberg's fantastic two-way play is captured by his +19 plus/minus, which leads the team by 10 goals.

    Detroit is a solid team. If it weren't for earlier injuries and a weak post-regulation record, then it might have been high enough in the standings to absorb the loss of its most valuable player and still make the postseason. As it stands, it likely won't.

7. Tomas Kopecky, Florida Panthers

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Injury: The Florida Panthers sent two players to the Olympics, and they both got injured. That's exactly the kind of season it has been for them.

    Tomas Kopecky took a vicious elbow to the head that earned Slovenia's Sabahudin Kovacevic a suspension. The 32-year-old Slovakian suffered a concussion, confirmed Erin Brown of FOX Sports Florida. His possible return date is currently unclear.

    The Impact: Obviously the Florida Panthers have zero chance of qualifying for the postseason. They are, however, a highly underrated team and could have effectively played a spoiler role down the stretch.

    Kopecky, who was part of Chicago's 2010 Stanley Cup championship team, is a valuable checking line player, taking on top-six opponents in defensive zone situations. He has also been a big part of Florida's special teams, currently ranking third among the team's forwards in average penalty-killing time per game and finishing third on the team in power-play scoring last year.

    Certain teams in the playoff hunt like Columbus and Phoenix, each of whom play the Panthers twice, could get some extra points. It could also make it a little harder for Florida to move one or more of its forwards at the trade deadline.

6. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    The Injury: Florida's exciting 18-year-old rookie Aleksander Barkov suffered a knee injury in a preliminary game against Norway. He could be out four to six weeks, depending on whether or not he requires surgery.

    The Impact: The Panthers are currently tied for 26th in goals scored, a struggle that will only continue without one of their few offensive talents.

    Nick Bjugstad will be used to fill his void on the top scoring line with Brad Boyes, according to David Meal of the Miami Herald. Two-way youngster Drew Shore will be brought back from the AHL's San Antonio Rampage to backfill.

    Bjugstad is only one point back of Barkov, who is three points back of the team scoring lead and tied with Calgary's Sean Monahan for 10th in the rookie scoring race.

    Barkov currently leads the team's forwards with an average of 14:17 per game at even strength and is just two seconds back of Tomas Fleischmann in average power-play time per game. He also leads the team with three power-play goals.

5. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Injury: The U.S.A.'s Ryan Kesler injured his hand blocking an Ilya Kovalchuk shot in a quarterfinal victory over Russia. Kesler managed to play in the subsequent semifinal against Canada and effectively shut down their superstar Sidney Crosby.

    While he may or may not miss any action, hand injuries can have a significant impact on a player's ability to score. It could also affect his performance in the faceoff circle, where his winning percentage is 52.5 percent this year and has topped 57 percent in two of the preceding three seasons. 

    The Impact: The Vancouver Canucks are 10th in the Western Conference, but just a single point off a playoff spot. Statistically, their chances of making the post-season are at least one in four.

    Of course, that's assuming they have a healthy line-up. Apart from Kesler and a high-profile injury to Henrik Sedin, the Canucks have also lost surprisingly effective bargain UFA pickup Mike Santorelli and up to five of their top defensemen recently. This could all add up to Vancouver's first non-playoff finish since the 2007-08 season.

    Kesler is the team's second line center and one of the game's best two-way forwards. He takes on the tough competition at even strength, is deadly on the power play and is potentially the NHL's best penalty-killing forward.

    The former Selke winner is the current NHL leader in overall ice time among forwards, leads the Canucks with seven power play goals, 20 overall, and is one back of the Sedins with 14 points.

4. Fedor Tyutin, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The Injury: What bad luck! First he had a game-deciding goal disallowed in a preliminary game against the Americans on a bizarre Olympic technicality and then Fedor Tyutin sprained his ankle when next they met in the quarterfinals.

    As we fearfully predicted in our pre-tournament piece, Tyutin got injured in Sochi and will be out for about two or three weeks.

    The Impact: Going into the Olympic break, Columbus has a better-than-even chance of seeing the post-season for only the second time in franchise history. Last year, it lost the final position on a tie-breaker.

    The Blue Jackets have been coming on strong lately, but their weak blue line could slow them down. Without Tyutin, there's really no defenseman who can take on the tough minutes against top opponents in the defensive zone without getting buried possession-wise.

    The next couple of weeks will also be a real offensive challenge without Tyutin. He has 46 points in 101 games over the past two seasons and is currently the second leading scorer among Columbus defensemen.

    Tyutin is second on the team in average playing time per game at both even strength and killing penalties. He's fourth among Blue Jackets defensemen in average power-play ice time.

    Tough 23-year-old defenseman Dalton Prout has been called back from the AHL's Springfield Falcons to fill in.

3. Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Injury: Mats Zuccarello fractured his left hand, missed Norway's last game against Russia and could miss three to four weeks of action, according to NHL.com.

    Coincidentally, he also had to pull out of the 2011 IIHF World Championships with a hand fracture.

    Hand injuries are especially worrisome for scoring line players like Zuccarello, who may be less effective offensively even when he does return.

      

    The Impact: The small 26-year-old Norwegian winger is one of the key offensive forces on the New York Rangers, who haven't punched their playoff ticket just yet.

    They currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and statistically have about a one in five chance of missing the playoffs for only the second time since the 2005 lockout.

    Zuccarello may not be a household name around the league, but he's a key player for this team. In terms of traditional statistics, he leads the Rangers in assists (28) and points (43), including on the power play (15). He had 34 points in 67 NHL games going into this season and was voted the most valuable player in the Swedish Elite League in 2010.

    Though he doesn't kill penalties, take on top opponents or contribute much defensively, Zuccarello makes a number of additional offensive contributions. He leads the team with three shootout goals in six attempts and 25 drawn penalties. His +13 penalty differential is the fifth best in the NHL, according to the data at Extra Skater.

    The Rangers went into the Olympic break strong, winning five of their last six games and being beaten in the possession game only twice in their last 18 contests. Their top scorer's absence could cool the team off and change the delicate balance of power in the super-tight Eastern Conference.

2. Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    The Injury: Paul Martin broke his hand during the U.S.A.'s quarterfinal game with the Czech Republic, causing him to miss the semifinal against Canada and the bronze medal game against Finland.

    Martin, who missed 23 games earlier this season with a broken leg, will be out four to six weeks.

    It has been a difficult year for Pittsburgh's blue line, which is indefinitely without Kris Letang and has missed its other two top-four defensemen, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, at various points of the season.

    The Impact: Pittsburgh is a very strong team, in first place by five points, and is not only a lock for the postseason, but also one of the clear Stanley Cup favorites.

    While Martin's absence is perhaps one of the most significant injuries of the Olympics, it is unlikely to dramatically change his team's fate.

    Martin, who will turn 33 while he's recuperating, is a trusted two-way defensemen. He showcased his scoring abilities last year, scoring 23 points in 34 games and another 11 in 15 postseason games. He and his partner Brooks Orpik handle a lot of tough defensive minutes for the Penguins and form perhaps the league's best penalty-killing tandem.

    Martin currently leads the team in average ice time and is one of the top two Pittsburgh blue liners in average ice time in each manpower situation.

    Pittsburgh will continue to rely on youngsters like Olli Maatta, Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo in Martin and Letang's absences. While the Penguins are strong enough to persist without Martin and Letang for a little while, they aren't in a position to handle any more losses on their blue line.

1. John Tavares, New York Islanders

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Injury: John Tavares is out for the season after a hard hit from Arturs Kulda in Canada's quarterfinal match-up with Latvia.

    No surgery will be required on his torn MCL and meniscus, according to CBC Sports, but the Islanders superstar could be out for eight to 12 weeks, effectively ending his season.

    The Impact: With the Islanders obviously out of the playoff hunt, the impact of this injury is more about how much easier games against them will be. The New Jersey Devils, for instance, are scheduled to play them three more times.

    Tavares is currently fifth in the NHL with 42 assists and third with 66 points, including 25 on the power play. But statistics are hardly necessary to define the loss one of the game's most dominant offensive forces.

    For the Islanders, the biggest impact could be to Tavares' linemates Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek, who have combined for 39 goals and 99 points in 103 games. They are unlikely to continue to score at the point-a-game pace with Brock Nelson, a 22-year-old rookie with 19 points in 50 games so far, skating between them instead.

    With Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin also out of the lineup, Islanders have recalled Bridgeport's three leading scorers, Anders Lee, Ryan Strome and Mike Halmo.

    With only one win in the eight games going into the break, this is a team that really needed a boost instead of yet another proverbial kick to the ribs.

    The only silver lining is a special clause in the Thomas Vanek trade with Buffalo that stipulates that the Islanders can defer the first round draft choice for another year if the selection falls within the top 10. Without Tavares, it most certainly will.

     

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.

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