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Rash of NHL Injuries Direct Consequence of Parity

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst INovember 9, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - APRIL 21:  Tuomo Ruutu #15 of the Carolina Hurricanes lays injured on the ice against the New Jersey Devils during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 21, 2009 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Carolina won 4-3. (Photo by: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Parity.

That one word was used countless times by the NHL to justify closing the league down for an entire year.

The cap imposed on all 30 teams at the beginning of the 2005-06 season was designed to lessen some teams' ability to spend wildly on free-agents and increase other teams' competitiveness as a result.

Five seasons into the cap era in the NHL, this has largely been achieved.

On any given night, against any given opponent, a team knows that coming out with a win is not going to be easy.

Now, some would say that this was always the case, that there has never been any "easy games" in the NHL, and every team is a tough opponent.

If one subscribes to this view, one would have to believe that in say, 2001-02, a team like the Detroit Red Wings would view a match against the Tampa Bay Lightning to be on par with taking on the Colorado Avalanche.

Nonsense.

Such a game back then was what it was, two points in the bank and an opportunity to put on a clinic and give your backup goalie some confidence.

Those days are gone.

The rags-to-riches stories being written early this season with teams like the Phoenix Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings as major characters, explicitly demonstrate how much of a toss-up first place in a division, conference or the even league itself, is nowadays.

Think about it.

When was the last time you heard someone refer to the "big three" in the East or West?

If someone wanted to use this term to identify the three best teams, it would be rendered almost meaningless from month to month, thus making it a worthless label to apply.

Nonetheless, however it was achieved, parity, as a whole, is a good thing.

It makes each game more exciting, brings attention to more teams and ultimately, makes the entire league a more marketable product (not that the league takes advantage of this fact, but I digress).

But, this season, we are seeing an unintended result of league parity in the form of injuries.

Hockey is a physical, fast-paced, and dangerous sport; injuries have been, and will always be, inevitable consequences of playing the game.

However, with increased parity comes an increase in the competitiveness of each team and player.

As a result, guys are blocking shots, finishing checks and pushing their physical limits in the regular season with a ferocity and frequency they used to reserve for the playoffs.

NHL teams now have the mentality that the playoffs begin in October.

While this is slightly exaggerated, there's no doubt that losing games in October can cost you a prime playoff position in April.

Fans certainly benefit from this increased urgency to empty the tank each and every night; it makes for much more entertaining hockey.

But as we're seeing this year, players and teams are paying the price.

There are currently 107 NHL roster players out due to injury, approximately 16% of players in the league.

That might not seem like much, but this equates to an average of 3.6 players per team sitting out games due to injury.Β  What's more, most of these players aren't fourth-line goons or seventh defense men.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Roberto Luongo, Johan Franzen, Jonathan Toews, Marc Savard, Shea Weber and Alexander Ovechkin, among others, are all sidelined with injuries.

These are not scrub players.

These are players that are essentially irreplaceable on their respective teams, and whose absence has left an impact.

This isn't surprising given that, with a rise in competition during regular season games, your best players must also raise their games to meet the challenge.

This increase in injury is particularly evident in the Central Division, perhaps the toughest in the NHL.

19 players among five teams are currently sitting out due to injury. With each team playing six times against the other, the injuries to players such as Shea Weber (Nashville), Johan Franzen (Detroit) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago) will only increase the need for their respective teams to play even harder against each other.

One team is trying to make up for the absence of a star player, and the other is trying to exploit the absence in an effort to win.

Teams like Chicago have been able to better absorb the loss of players like Jonathan Toews (not to mention Marian Hossa who has yet to play a game as a Blackhawk), due to their depth.

However, a team like Detroit has continued to suffer the loss of power-forward Johan Franzen three games into the season as the cap has limited their depth of talent at forward.

In this way, parity is hurting the Red Wings two-fold: the cap limiting their depth of talent and increased competition putting their players at greater risk.

Don't misunderstand the point here, this isn't a complaint about parity or the salary cap.

This is merely an observation about how these things have contributed to an increase in injury among players in the NHL.

The assertion that, "Every game is important", was once clear hyperbole in the NHL.

Today, it is an undeniable fact.

With every NHL team treating every match-up like a playoff game, injured lists and roster lists may soon become hard to distinguish from one another.

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