The Durable & The Injury-Prone

One of the most critical factors in the success or failure of an NHL career is injury. Injuries can reduce effectiveness, limit games played, and at their worst shorten or end careers. Given that they are so impactful, it makes sense to be aware of the injury record of various players, and to take it into account when making decisions.

How has the current Oilers’ roster fared over the last five seasons?

All injury data courtesy of TSN, and these numbers reflect only NHL-level injuries over the last five seasons.

Danger! Danger!

Player Games/Season Total Games Reason
Ales Hemsky 26 131 Shoulder (x7), knee (x3), concussion (x2), groin, leg, flu
Nikolai Khabibulin 23 113 Lower body (x3), back (x2), eye, groin, knee , finger

In 2009-10, a common refrain when providing reasons for the Oilers ineptitude went something like this: “How would Pittsburgh do without Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury?

The sad truth is that two of the most important players to the current roster have a long track record of serious injury problems. Ales Hemsky plays a fearless style, chasing the puck without concern for his sometimes frail body. He has paid the price time and again. Meanwhile, as Nikolai Khabibulin’s career is winding down, he finds himself on the injured list time and again with a range of maladies.

The best forward on the team and the starting goaltender are both unreliable due to injury.

Serious Reason For Concern

Player Games/Season Total Games Reason
Kurtis Foster 19 94 Leg (x2), groin (x2), throat, knee, cheekbone, back, lower body, head, neck
Jim Vandermeer 18 88 Ankle (x5), upper body
Taylor Hall 17 17 Ankle (one season)
Ryan Whitney 17 86 Groin (x3), ankle, left foot, personal reasons
Jean-Francois Jacques 16 79 Back (x4), foot

Taylor Hall’s presence on this list is a little misleading, as he’s only played one season so his ankle injury looms large. There is some reason for concern – his susceptibility to injury was cited pre-draft as a reason to draft Tyler Seguin – but as long as this isn’t happening every season he will be okay.

Jim Vandermeer has broken both of his ankles over the last five seasons, and had a spate of minor injuries in the same area as well. It’s going to be a concern for the rest of his NHL career. Most fans are familiar with Kurtis Foster’s horrific leg injury, which accounts for the bulk of his number above, but he has also had other issues as well. Meanwhile, I’m relatively certain that a good deal of Jean-Francois Jacques’ ineffectiveness is thanks to chronic back problems; he was a good prospect and those injuries will probably end his NHL career in the not too distant future.

Ryan Whitney’s injury history was a concern when he was acquired, and the team can’t afford to be without him.

Reason For Concern

Player Games/Season Total Games Reason
Shawn Horcoff 14 71 Knee (x2), foot, bronchitis, lower body, flu, shoulder, leg (x2)
Jordan Eberle 13 13 Ankle (one season)
Ladislav Smid 12 59 Concussion (x2), head, shoulder, leg, knee, hand, arm ,neck, illness
Gilbert Brule 12 58 Flu (x3), illness, tonsils, concussion, ankle, abdominal

Gilbert Brule is probably the most interesting player on this list from a purely injury-based point of view. Firstly, the ghastly injuries suffered at the start of his career aren’t included on this list (they occurred in 2005-06, one season prior to my five season cut-off) but there’s no doubt they’ve impacted his career. Lately though Brule’s missed a bunch of time to a variety of poorly-explained ailments that may or may not be related to each other. Interestingly, the games he missed this season were predominantly road games.

Ladislav Smid is actually a guy I tend to think of as rather rugged, but he simply seems incapable of protecting himself. He takes huge hits seemingly every game and generally bounces right back up, but I wonder if at some point we’ll see one big injury and after that he’ll be hurt all the time. Shawn Horcoff’s knees have cost him a lot of games the last few seasons, and will be an area to watch going forward.

As with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle’s placement here is a result of one relatively big injury in his sole NHL season, and we don’t need to worry as long as this doesn’t keep happening.

Some Worries

Player Games/Season Total Games Reason
Sam Gagner 9 34 Hand, hip, knee, lower body, ankle, concussion, undisclosed (four seasons)
Steve MacIntyre 9 28 Orbital fracture, back, personal (three seasons)
Theo Peckham 7 21 Shoulder, concussion, flu, hand (three seasons)
Ryan Jones 6 19 Torn MCL, upper body (three seasons)

Theo Peckham is the player on this list that worries me most. I’ve got “three seasons” written down next to his injuries, but the reality is that the first two were partial seasons, and he plays an intensely physical game. I really like the player, but we’re seeing problems early and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they become a theme over the course of his career.

Beyond that, Sam Gagner’s been fairly brittle the last two years and there is reason to be worried there, while both Steve MacIntyre and Ryan Jones have essentially had one big injury.

Durable

Player Games/Season Total Games Reason
Tom Gilbert 3 16 Back, head
Colin Fraser 2 6 Foot (x2) (three seasons)
Zack Stortini 2 6 Knee (four seasons)
Devan Dubnyk 1 1 Virus (two seasons)
Jason Strudwick 0 2 Shoulder
Magnus Paajarvi 0 0 One season
Linus Omark 0 0 One season
Jeff Petry 0 0 One season
Teemu Hartikainen 0 0 One season
Andrew Cogliano 0 0 Four seasons

Generally, this list has a lot of kids that haven’t played long enough for us to form conclusions – guys like Devan Dubnyk, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, Jeff Petry and Teemu Hartikainen. But there are some legitimately durable guys here.

Tom Gilbert is a favourite whipping boy for many, and I anticipate lots of, ‘well, if Shirley was willing to take a hit’-style comments, but he blocks a lot of shots, plays a lot of minutes in a position that tends to see a lot of injuries, and doesn’t get hurt. That has value. Andrew Cogliano has also been remarkably durable, perhaps because his speed means he can avoid a lot of checks, but he also plays a fairly intense game and sees some contact. Once again, his durability is valuable.

Some depth pieces show up here as well. Colin Fraser has generally been healthy over his time in the NHL, Zack Stortini is freakishly durable given the amount of contact he sustains, and one would never guess that Jason Strudwick is an aging, physical defenseman from his placement on this list. The limited utility of these players means that their health has less value than a guy like Gilbert or Cogliano, but healthy fill-ins are certainly preferable to unhealthy ones.

      • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

        Don’t feel bad dude, I got scooped on JW’s last article. Excrament occurs.

        JW…Great read, I knew that players like Hemmer and Khabby should have “FRAGILE” stickers on their helmets, but the list of other injuries makes me think they ALL need to wear the bright red sticker.

        Q. Is it a conditioning thing? Who is responsible for conditioning anyways? The players or is there someone on staff?

  • ItsTheBGB

    FIST off, I’d like to say that our team has been made of glass since 2006. It seems like it anyway.

    Secondly, lots of blogs being pumped out in the Oilogosphere are really negative lately. I guess being last 2 years in a row is becoming obviously less tolerable.

  • Yeah, I’m pretty sure you forgot that Eberle had an Appendicitis with his ankle. I’m not so sure I would qualifiy him as a reason for concern. There’s really not enough data to include them with veterans in the anlaysis.

  • Chris.

    The game is faster and more punishing than ever… The only reasonable contingency plan is to have depth (and lots of it) through every level of the organization.

    It also would be nice if management didn’t hand older, more injury prone players long term contracts.

  • @ Oilers G:

    Keep in mind a lot of these injuries have occurred with multiple teams – guys like Whitney, Foster, Brule, Khabibulin, etc.

    I wouldn’t be rushing to blame the Oilers trainers; injuries happen. The two things I will say are that a) it really seems like ice-related injuries are on the rise in Edmonton, though that’s just my opinion and b) Oilers management seems to have no problem acquiring players with injury concerns – most of these guys had known problems before they were acquired.

    • The Goat - Team FIST

      I have said this before, but part of what makes a great player great is learning how to avoid injury as much as possible.

      Other than the best players of all time that had shortened careers – Lemieux and Orr, playing long enough is important for a great or HOF career.

      Messier even would not have the same stature if he only played 10-12 years.

      I believe it is a learning process. Learning when to curl to avoid or diminish a hit, knowing when to let a play go or change the plan rather than get into a vulnerable position on a play that often has low percentages, which is why the risk entered the picture in the first place.

      I think it should be taught. Hemsky and Smid get hurt from consistently taking big avoidable hits in the name of playing tough. Hall has played risky in juniors (I hope he stops), Eberle gets creamed good too often trying to beat people on the wall, Gagne’s immobility leads to more punishment than he needs to take.

      Even the physically big players get hurt from contact. For the smaller guys, picking your moments and using speed, stick and positioning is key. I think it is why Cogs and Gilbert stay healthy.

      It is just plain dumb to bank on players that have chronic health issues. Not surprisingly, they are chronic, Steve Tambellini. It’s a low percentage bet that they will just go away or stop happening. The longer the season goes, the more likely they become, leaving the team in the lurch for the playoffs too many times that I have seen.

      For the healthy, smart players save themselves for when the chips are down, while learning how to be effective at the same time, by understanding the game.

      Just my opinion.

  • The Farmer

    Didn’t Taylor Hall say this was the first real injury of his career. Is there anyway to know his injury history in junior, he must have played the same way and come out alright.

  • EasyOil

    Love the Top Gear vid JW, I know its off-topic but is TG popular in Canada? Its one of the most popular TV shows ever here in the UK, and the series of clips they did trying to destroy the Toyota pickup is some of the most legendary “water-cooler” tv over here!

    As for the Oilers, I don’t care how injury prone Hemsky is, I’d still rather have him on my team than not.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Depth, depth depth.

    “Don’t sign anyone, it might cost Katz money and we might lose Linus Omark in 4 years because of it!!!!”
    screams the Oilers peanut gallary

  • @ EasyOil:

    I’m not sure. I believe I heard that TG is the most popular show in the world at the moment but I also believe it only plays on BBC Canada over here so I doubt it gets much exposure.

    I’ve got a friend (he’s a car nut) who introduced it to me a few years back and I’ve been hooked ever since.

    • EasyOil

      Haha awesome! Had no idea it was so far reaching! That’s the great thing about Top Gear, you don’t have to be a car nut (which I’m not) to enjoy it, its hilarious! (if slightly gratuitous, no bad thing). Anyways, nice article JW!

      • EasyOil

        Top Gear: Bugatti Veyron vs. Eurofighter, and the episode where they jump a supercar off an aircraft carrier at 200 mph are two of the best clips on Youtube, in my opinion.

        And I’m glad to hear Jones is sticking around for a while, BTW

  • Hartikainen, Omark and Pääjärvi can all be counted as “legitimately durable” as well, they didn’t miss any games due to injury during their pro seasons before signing with the Oilers, either.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Good signing, 1.5 for a guy who might be able to fill some of the needs of this team, it’s a good low risk move. When it comes to his own players, except maybe Brule, Tambellini is a pretty good negotiator. It’s too bad he’s so brutal at acquiring actual NHL players through free agency and trades. Sadly enough, relative to cost, Jones might even be his best move so far.

    I think Jones is a player best suited to a checking, energy, PKing role on the 4th line. Exactly the type of player we need, however i think he brings enough offence, along with his main skill set, to be occasionally injected onto other lines, and the PP. A true team guy and young enough to grow with the team and into a role, I’d say players like these have value. And to the point of the article, a durable player as well.

    It could all go downhill from here but i think he showed enough that this deal makes sense, and at the cost it’s a safe enough bet.

  • Excellent read, as almost always J.W.. Eye-opening. A nice addendum would be, as MrBig suggested earlier, a rundown on the man-games lost per team in the last 5 years in the NHL to give it some perspective. Yes, we’ve been run out of town in terms of injury in the last couple years….. or have we? Gilbert and Cogliano are our warriors? More input required…. [breakdown] [Errorrrrrrrr] [GOTO 10]

    P.S. I’ve never heard of T.G. and I live in Canada but i’ve also not subscribed to cable TV ever since I had broadband internet.