Injuries at the NHL level can have tremendous impact on the team. In 2009-10, the Oilers’ fall to last place in the NHL was blamed in part on injuries to Ales Hemsky and Nikolai Khabibulin. In the comments section here, various parties pointed to those injuries and asked how a team like the Penguins would do without Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury (one hears that less often these days, for multiple obvious reasons).
Were the Oilers been particularly unlucky when it came to injuries in 2010-11?
At first glance, the answer would appear to be ‘yes.’ According to the team’s official website, the Oilers lost 281 man-games to injury last season, a number that sounds staggering and equates to three or four players missing each and every game of the season.
Of course, to determine whether that number is actually a lot, one needs a frame of reference. $100 is ‘a lot’ if we look at the prices of chocolate bars, but considerably less if we’re out to buy a house. How can we get that frame of reference?
The method typically used is by comparison to other NHL teams. The problem with this method is that different players get injured more or less frequently – if Andrew Cogliano misses five games in a year, he had an abnormally injury-filled season, but if Ales Hemsky misses five games in a year it was a great season. Because of this, various teams employing different players should expect a differing number of man-games lost.
A better method, the method I’m going to use, is to compare a player’s total number of games missed to their three-year averages. Thus, if a player misses 20 games after averaging perfectly healthy seasons the last three years, then that would be 20 unexpected missed games. If, on the other hand, a player appears in all 82 games after averaging 10 games a season lost to injury, then the team could count itself lucky to get those ‘extra’ 10 games. Naturally, this isn’t perfect – a normally healthy player might suffer a serious injury and thus have his average skewed upward – but random injuries happen too and should be accounted for to some extent.
How do the Oilers fare by this method? We’re going to consider them by position, but before we do the number supplied by the Oilers’ website needs to be pared down a bit.
For starters, the Oilers’ itemized list of injuries shows, not 281 missed games as the top of the page states, but rather 278. Since I need the itemized list for this analysis, and that’s the number with supporting data, that’s the figure I’ll use. Additionally, I’m going to remove the 18 games lost by Taylor Chorney, as I’m only using players that started the season on the roster (in other words, we aren’t using Chorney’s 18 injured games, but we aren’t using Ryan O’Marra’s zero missed games either).
Next, there is the matter of the rookies. We have no way of knowing what an average season looks like for Linus Omark or Taylor Hall, so we can’t run this analysis on them. Those players are listed below.
Based on three-year averages, we would have expected the Oilers to lose a little fewer than 100 games; instead they lost 137. The main culprits for the deviation were Gilbert Brule and Shawn Horcoff. Neither is a terribly surprising addition to the list, but both had been relatively healthy over the previous three seasons.
On the blue line, the Oilers missed almost the exact number of games we would expect, although the distribution was a little different from three-year averages. Rather than losing Foster and Smid for extended stints, the Oilers lost Ryan Whitney for more than half the year.
In net, the Oilers had a fortunate year. Devan Dubnyk was unsurprisingly healthy, but Nikolai Khabibulin only missed about a third as many games as he’s averaged over the last three seasons.
Based on three year averages, we would have expected the Oilers’ veteran roster players to miss 211 games. They missed a total of 231, indicating a slightly higher than expected total but nothing extremely surprising.
Even the distribution was relatively even. The losses of Horcoff and Whitney hurt, but the players who experienced exceptionally healthy seasons – Smid, Foster and the team’s starting goaltender – help to balance that out.
I think we can say that 2010-11 was a below-average season for the Oilers on the injury front, but not by a lot.