Injuries are a fact of life in professional hockey. It’s a contact sport played at the highest speeds, and pain is an inevitable consequence. That said, some players are more at risk (due to chronic problems, poor hockey sense, age and other factors) than most, and teams like the Oilers need to know which of their key players are at an elevated risk of injury.
With that in mind, I’ve tallied up the games missed by Oilers’ players since the NHL lockout (note: all injury information courtesy of Sportsnet) to give us an idea of who might be at a particularly high risk of getting hurt. Obviously, this list tends to favour young players and callups, who have played fewer NHL games, and doesn’t include injuries sufffered in the minors or in junior.
More Than 50 Games Missed
- Ethan Moreau: 147 (shoulder, eye, groin and multiple leg injuries)
- Fernando Pisani: 77 (ulcerative colitis, concussion, leg and back injury)
- Nikolai Khabibulin: 66 (back spasms, knee, groin, finger and multiple lower body injuries)
- Sheldon Souray: 65 (wrist, knee, foot, and multiple groin and shoulder injuries)
These are the four players at greatest risk of suffering another injury, and unfortunately all play key roles for the Oilers. Ethan Moreau has had incredibly bad luck since the lockout, but despite leading the team in games missed most of the problems aren’t chronic. The greatest concern here are his shoulders, which wiped out one season and have been injured on multiple occasions prior.
Sheldon Souray’s been plagued by multiple chronic injuries, but the wrist injuries which have so heavily impacted his career haven’t been a major problem in recent years. Fernando Pisani, meanwhile, has been relatively healthy aside from his colitis, which is going to be a risk every season.
Lastly, the Oilers newly acquired number one goaltender, 36-year old Nikolai Khabibulin, has suffered repeated lower body injuries which have caused him to miss an average of 16-17 games per season. While this is serious, the greater concern is that given his age, history and the position he plays, he may be at a relatively high risk of suffering a long-term injury.
20 to 50 Games Missed
- Lubomir Visnovsky: 47 (ankle, back, lower body and multiple shoulder injuries)
- Gilbert Brule: 39 (broken leg, sternal clavicular strain, inflamed tonsils)
- Ales Hemsky: 37 (concussion, multiple shoulder and knee injuries)
- Shawn Horcoff: 36 (knee, leg, shoulder injury)
- J-F Jacques: 30 (back surgery)
- Steve MacIntyre: 26 (orbital fracture)
- Ladislav Smid: 24 (broken hand, concussion, knee, shoulder, leg and head injury)
- Steve Staios: 24 (multiple knee injuries)
- Marc Pouliot: 23 (mononucleosis, concussion)
There are some concerns here. Most of the players towards the bottom of the list are relatively healthy with the exception of one major problem, although Smid and Staios have managed to get here through a combination of smaller problems – Staios with his knees and Smid because he takes big hits all of the time. The top three players here are the ones that are really worth being concerned about. All are smaller players, and all play a high-risk game: in the cases of Hemsky and Visnovsky because they always have the puck, and in Brule’s case because of the physical style he plays. I’d say that all three are significant injury risks, while the other players on this list have been relatively durable. Staios and Smid (mentioned above) are probably near the top of the group because of age and penchant for taking big hits, respectively.
It’s also worth noting that both Jacques and Pouliot have had their careers significantly impacted by injury at the minor-league and junior levels, and should also be considered as relatively high injury risks.
1 to 20 Games Missed
- Tom Gilbert: 13 (head injury)
- Denis Grebeshkov: 10 (ankle injury, concussion)
- Robert Nilsson: 9 (concussion, upper body injury)
- Zack Stortini: 6 (strained left knee)
- Sam Gagner: 6 (concussion, ankle injury)
- Liam Reddox: 2 (upper body injury)
- Jason Strudwick: 2 (shoulder injury)
These players have all been relatively healthy to date. There’s a frightening number of concussions in this group, but other than that there isn’t too much cause for concern.
No Games Missed
- Theo Peckham: 16 NHL games without injury
- Andrew Cogliano: 164 NHL games without injury
- Patrick O’Sullivan: 207 NHL games without injury
- Dustin Penner: 261 NHL games without injury
Dustin Penner has been incredibly durable, and while he doesn’t play a high-impact physical game he isn’t a perimeter player either so this deserves acknowledgement. Either he has a pretty significant pain threshold, incredibly good luck, or his size combined with hockey sense gets him out of danger. I’d guess it’s a combination of all of those factors.
O’Sullivan and Cogliano are both small players, but hockey sense undoubtedly helps in both cases, combined with good (O’Sullivan) and incredible (Cogliano) skating ability. Theo Peckham meanwhile simply hasn’t played enough NHL games for us to form any conclusions.