The Injury Excuse

Injuries are part of hockey. Sometimes, teams suffer more injuries than the norm, or they suffer a series of unexpected injuries to vital players. Other times, they suffer fewer injuries than the norm, or their key players make it through a year virtually unscathed. Some of it has to do with personnel – there’s a reason certain teams consistently post decent totals in this regard – but there’s a big element of chance.

This year, the Oilers were not especially unlucky.

The Oilers finished the season with 241 man-games lost to injury, and as of a few weeks ago were middle-of-the-pack in that category in the NHL (of the four worst teams in the NHL, they were also the only one to finish with less than 300 man-games lost to injury).

The List

Here are the players who missed time in 2011-12:

Player MGL Thoughts
Cam Barker 39 Wildly ineffective defenseman was no loss
Ryan Whitney 30 He was injured prior to the season
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 18 Core player, but not projected as one in September
Taylor Hall 18 Core player with a pre-existing injury
Corey Potter 17 Unremarkable depth defenseman
Theo Peckham 17 Unremarkable depth defenseman
Ben Eager 15 Fourth-line ruffian
Darcy Hordichuk 15 Fourth-line ruffian
Ales Hemsky 13 Core player
Tom Gilbert 13 Core player
Alex Plante 9 Call-up
Andy Sutton 7 Lost more time to suspension than injury
Sam Gagner 7 Core player
Nikolai Khabibulin 5 As with 2010-11, games missed were no loss
Jordan Eberle 4 Less than five games lost
Anton Lander 3 Less than five games lost
Eric Belanger 3 Less than five games lost
Jeff Petry 3 Less than five games lost
Ladislav Smid 3 Less than five games lost
Lennart Petrell 3 Less than five games lost
Ryan O’Marra 1 Less than five games lost
Shawn Horcoff 1 Less than five games lost

A bunch of guys missed less than five games. That sort of lost time can be safely chalked up as the cost of doing business and largely dismissed.

Of the remaining games, fully 117 of them (Barker, Potter, Peckham, Eager, Hordichuk, Plante, Khabibulin) were to players whose absence was not particularly painful. In a few cases – Barker and Khabibulin in particular – those players being out of the lineup allowed superior replacements to play.

Ryan Whitney’s injury problems this season were entirely foreseeable. He was hurt last season, he was hurt over the summer, and the Oilers had plenty of time to address that weakness.

Put it all together, and 168 (69.7%) of the Oilers’ 241 man-games lost were either of the one/two game variety, entirely foreseeable, or to fringe players. Of the remaining 73 games lost, huge chunks went to a guy with another pre-existing injury (Hall), a guy who was questionable to make the team out of training camp (Nugent-Hopkins), and IR regulars Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner.

There’s simply no argument to be made that this team had bad injury luck.

      • greenlightning86

        That’s 1 you pulled out. I would call that cherry picking.

        So they have one of the best AHL teams. Yep. How many of those players can walk into the NHL?

        The top D men were called up this yr, how did that work for the oil?

        If Potter was in the AHL and called up in case of injury. That would be “depth”.

        Having Potter in the NHL, getting injured and replace by Plante shows a lack of depth.

        • Potter, Peckham and Barker are all sub-average third-pairing defensemen.

          Hordichuk and Eager are fourth-liners, though in Hordichuk’s case we’re stretching the point – he doesn’t get into the lineup if he isn’t punching people because he’s not a good enough player.

          If you can’t replace those guys for a time internally, your team is badly built. Period. Blaming poor performance on those sorts of injuries is an excuse, not an explanation.

          • Badly built? or Lack of Depth

            Similar but different.

            Is injuries the excuse?

            or is it (injuries) the event that exposes an underlying issue.

            Two sides of the same coin.

            I would argue that depth will come as time passes. The next round of draft picks add some more raw material. The current AHL players (Pitlick (sp?) and others) probably won’t make the NHL this next yr, but will get better. That will constitute depth. Players in the AHL that could play in the NHL

          • Omark. Hartikainen. Green. O’Marra. Vande Velde. That’s plenty of depth up front right now.

            Teubert, Chorney and Plante may not be ideal but then the Oilers have been carrying 8 defenders on their NHL roster when most teams only have seven. Beyond that, if there’s a need it’s easy to address – you go out and sign a guy for 500,000, like the Oilers did with Potter.

            If you can’t get good AHL players/marginal NHL’ers like Josh Green through free agency, you’re not trying. If you can’t replace Cam Barker with someone on your AHL team with minimal dropoff, you’re failing at your job.

            So, yeah, maybe the injuries expose a lack of depth. But depth – like Josh Green – is easy to find and if it isn’t there that doesn’t give you an excuse for losing. It gives the owner an excuse to fire you.

          • At some point Jeff, you’re just setting the bar so low that it’s literally impossible to finish below it.

            Talking about how hard it is to land good AHL players is almost as bad as it gets. At some point, I’m waiting to hear how guys like Bryan Lerg won’t sign a two-way contract with the Oilers.

          • I think they are close…but no cigar yet.

            I don’t think building depth is as easy as signing slugs. I think you need enough real NHL players on the lineup that force draft picks to wait in the minors.

            Edmonton has not been in that position for a long time. (pre-new CBA)

            For our forward ranks, we are very close on having NHL ready players sitting in the minors on their entry level contracts. Still a ways for the D.

            You state the case that ST hasn’t done enough to build depth and yet maybe the lack of doing anything is creating depth.

            (also…another topic. which “depth” is better. Bought or grown???)

            Anyways…back to injuries.

            If the Oil had no injuries, the lack of depth would not be exposed as much.

            So did injuries have an effect on the outcome? Yes.

            Is it an “Excuse”…no but it still is a contributing factor.

            So the Idea of Injuries as an Excuse really boils down to the depth of the organization.

            You pretty much state that you should be able to buy depth. I don’t agree. (or at least..I believe that grown depth is better than bought depth)

          • etownandy

            The Penguins didn’t seem to have much trouble losing the best player in the game, in addition to Letang, Staal, and Malkin for stretches this year and last. Why? Because they have quality NHL players sprinkled throughout the lineup. And keep in mind that many thought the Penguins were too heavy down the middle with not enough support on the wings yet they continue to win when their best centremen are out of the game. And when they anticipate injuries (i.e. Staal is prone, Crosby is now a permanent question mark), they make sure they have some answers in the chamber. The Oilers had plenty of predictors that Whitney, Horcoff and Hemsky wouldn’t be 100%. And given Hall’s type of game, could probably predict him missing a handful of games per year. I completely agree with Willis on this one – the Oilers are dreadful at asset management.

          • DSF

            Also. Perhaps the fact that the Penguins sucked for a good chunk of years allowed them to draft a large chunk of players that make up the depth that allows them to survive the injuries.

            I know you agree with Willis, but you managed to prove the use of building depth through the draft.

          • “So, yeah, maybe the injuries expose a lack of depth. But depth – like Josh Green – is easy to find and if it isn’t there that doesn’t give you an excuse for losing. It gives the owner an excuse to fire you.”

            …I suppose that’s the crux of the issue isn’t it?

        • I could be wrong but I read this article as JW saying the Oilers can’t blame this season Injuries because they didn’t have too many that really hurt them, when a Potter type went down a Teubert can replace him, I think the article sums up this team was not built to be strong team and that injuries cannot be an excuse like years past.

          Well the Oilers called up Petry so Id say it worked out pretty well for them.

  • Al Davis

    Agreed. Didn’t the Oilers have over 500 man games lost to injury a few years ago? That was the lone time I think this team could have used the injury excuse.

  • I seem to recall January being a dark time for top tier guys (The Kids) all being sidelined with multi-game injuries; some at the same time. So I would argue that is “bad injury luck.”

    Your chart doesn’t really show the impact two or three key player simultaneous injuries can have on the team, just that the total man games lost is low-ish.

    Also, the fact some players weren’t projected to be impact players at the start of the season does nothing to lessen the impact of their time injured. Or am I misinterpreting the “thoughts” column in your chart?

    • If you’re sitting and planning the team in the summer, you build a team with certain expectations. So if you plan your team knowing that RNH might make the squad, you can’t come back in April and say, ‘yeah, we would have been great except that RNH got hurt’ because your plan should have specifically allowed for the possibility that RNH wouldn’t take the NHL by storm as a rookie.

      Any bad luck from the injury is more than negated by the great luck that he turned out to be a high-end NHL player in his first year.

  • The “thoughts” section kind of glosses over the importance of some of these injuries. Tom Gilbert in particular. Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Nugent-Hopkins lost most of January at the same time. Eberle, Belanger and Hall also missed games during that month. Losing Gilbert alone is not an easy one to come back from, and not at all foreseeable. The Oilers don’t have the depth to absorb all that at once, especially with Fedun out. They were 4-7-2 in January.

    • That sort of underscores the minimal impact those injuries had, actually.

      A 4-7-2 record works out to 10 points in 13 games, or 0.77 PTS/game. The rest of the year they had 64 points in 69 games, or 0.93 PTS/GM.

      Certainly it’s a drop-off, but it’s not a huge one. At their non-January pace over a full season, they would have finished with 76 points – still good for 29th place.

      • They also had one of their worst stretches of the season, winning one in a nine game span. In terms of actual winning percentage, it dropped by ten percent over the rest of the year. I see what you’re saying though, it’s not like they would have been anywhere but the bottom anyway.

  • Oilphins

    The problem with the Oil is not a lack of depth, but rather a lack of truly motivated NHL calibre players. This team is not going to get better by adding more players to the farm, unless those players are on the current NHL roster.

  • John Chambers

    Did you know?????

    The Minnesota Wild were the best team in the NHL before the injury bug suddenly turned them into one of the worst. The injuries didn’t markedly affect their ability to produce shots on goal or prevent the opposition’s shots, or significantly alter any other possession metrics, but they are the unequivocal reason for their decline in the standings. True story.

  • TwoSkidoos

    Something that goes perhaps not unnoticed, but, rarely talked about is that many players play hurt. Although good players playing hurt are likely better than fringe players playing 100%, it still is a factor in how a player and, overall, how the team performs.

    Horcoff with a sore back is frequently taking face offs, a task in which torque on your back is required. Hall with his sub-par shoulder taking hits and trying to stickhandle.

    Lastly, a guy like Hemsky just found his game the last 15 games or so because he generally “felt better”. Injuries don’t mean you’re on IR or are off for 3 or 4 games, players play through injuries and not always for the better.

    • DSF

      Just for the record…Hemsky scored 7 points in his last 15 games.

      That’s a .47 PPG pace.

      Projected over an 82 game season…that’s 38 points.

      He actually finished the season with 36 points so it would appear your theory holds water like a Texan at the Alamo.

  • vetinari

    I agree that some injury losses weren’t really causing downgrades at their position (i.e. Barker, Khabibulin) in hindsight.

    I think that a GM can look at that injury list and use it to plan some of your off season moves because almost all the players on that list who are over the age of 25 are replaceable cogs or had a marginal beneficial affect on the team.

    However, I think that the only way some of them will be moved is if their contracts expire and a few faces from the farm take their place (Paajarvi, Lander, Hartikainen) on the roster– I’m not holding out much hope for UFA help this year; maybe a trade or two and the draft.

  • Oilers just are not ” tough enough’. The tough guys they do have were either sitting on the bench most of the season or suspended.When they are back in the line up, their skill level is very limited, and would not appreciate the results on ice that much in terms of good hockey.
    Re: Sutton, Hordichuk, Eager, and Peckham.
    Petrel, throws the odd check, but they are not bone crushing type, getting the guy off the puck.
    Every one else is soft, even guys with some size
    [6ft – 200 lbs ], Horcoff, Pajarrvi, Jones, Smyth, RNH, ,even HALL. Team mentality is soft.
    Other teams smallish guys plaY TOUGH HARD ON THE PUCK HOCKEY, but it seesm not OILERS.

  • I for one am outraged… it has been well established that Cam Barker is a “Top 4” defenseman!!1! How can you possibly believe that losing him for 39 games wouldn’t destroy our playoff hopes. 😛

    On a serious note, nice article. I thought I heard on the radio that the Oilers ranked 14th in injuries this season, which should lay the blame somewhere between the feet of our GM and the coach.

  • I think there is some misunderstanding about what ‘lack of depth’ is. Lacking depth is at all levels of an NHL team; it can be a shortage of reasonable fourth line/third pairing players on the farm team, or it can be a lack of high-end players that are slotted into the second pairing or second or third line that can slide up a slot and play more minutes.

    I think the Oilers had this kind of depth at forward, with player like Paajarvi, Omark and Hartikainen at forward. But it was still a bit of an inexperienced group. At defence, and in goal, on the other hand…

  • Dipstick

    Tams cannot build a contender any way you look at it . Drafting takes far too long , and his inability to add players to help us move forward instead of status quo at bottom of league is all too familiar . We are not even close to being a contender for next season , as Tams has never adequately made personnel changes of note to make our team better defensively or tough enough to compliment our younger players of note . Small progress 3 years IS OF LITTLE CONSOLATION ,as it was inevitably going to get better despite him . The rebuild will grow by leaps and bounds with a new Gm that can make a deal outside of just drafting . I don’t see us ever becoming a power so long as we maintain current upper management . The only thing they have done right is sell out the building, and i hope thats not the only criteria Katz cares about !