Will Health Impact Who Ken Holland Trades?
By Jason Gregor7 months ago
It is often overlooked, mainly because it is so impossible to project, but health can be a major factor for team success. What if Victor Hedman didn’t get injured on March 30th, 2019, against Washington? He missed the final four regular season games, returned for the first two playoff games, but he was clearly injured and sat out games three and four as the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Tampa Bay Lightning out of the 2019 playoffs. Tampa had won 62 of 82 regular season games, but their best D-man got injured at the worst time of the year and it derailed them.
It wasn’t just his injury that cost them the series, but if he stayed healthy the outcome likely would have been different. What if Brayden Point didn’t get injured this post-season? Would he have made a difference in the Stanley Cup Final?
We’ll never know, but considering how dominant he’d been in previous playoffs, a healthy Point would have given the Lightning more offensive punch. But Tampa Bay can’t complain too much as they had 15 skaters play all 23 playoff games along with Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal. Zack Bogosian played in 22 games. Point was their only key injury, but it was a big one at the worst possible time. There is no way to prepare for that. Tampa had good depth, but when you lose the player who led your team in goals during the previous two Championship runs, it is a major blow.
Injuries in the playoffs can severely alter the outcome of a series, and in the regular season, health can be a major reason why some teams make the playoffs and others fall short.
In 2022, Las Vegas had over 500 games lost due to injury. Mark Stone missed 45 games, Max Pacioretty missed 43 while Alex Martinez missed 56. Robin Lehner battled injuries late in the season and Vegas ended up missing the playoffs by three points. If they aren’t ravaged by injuries to key players they likely find two more wins and make the playoffs.
The Oilers actually had the most man-games lost to injury of the 16 playoff teams, but not every man-game lost is equal. Vegas lost its top-two scorers. Josh Archibald missed over 60 games and Kyle Turris was on the injured list for around 50 games for Edmonton. They aren’t as skilled or as valuable as Stone or Pacioretty, so we do have to consider which players were injured.
The Oilers were without some regular players out for extended periods. Mike Smith missed 34 games, Duncan Keith 18, Darnell Nurse 11, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 19, Jesse Puljujarvi 17 and Zack Kassian 24.
Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames were clearly on the healthy side of the NHL. The Flames had all of their top-six D-men play at least 73 games. Their D missed a combined total of 22 games.
Their forwards were also very healthy. Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund and Milan Lucic played 82 games, while Blake Coleman (81), Trevor Lewis (80) and Dillon Dube (79) combined to miss only six games.
Sean Monahan missed 16 games. That was their longest key injury.
INJURIES DON’T ALWAYS DEFINE A SEASON…
May 10, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Darnell Nurse (25) carries the puck up ice in front of Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe (9) during the third period in game five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
The Flames were one of only three teams, including Pittsburgh and Washington, who had their starting six D-men play 70+ games. That is quite high considering only 112 D-men, an average of 3.5 per team, played 70+ games.
The Los Angeles Kings were the only team to have one D-man play 70+ games and that was young Tobias Bjornfot. Drew Doughty missed 43 games, Sean Walker missed 76 while Alex Edler missed 41 and Mikey Anderson sat out 25.
Walker and Doughty were their top-two RD in 2021, and they combined to miss 72% of the Kings games last season, but despite all their injuries on the blue line the Kings were still 10th in goals against. They were 20th in goals for, but they found ways to win. It is a credit to the Kings they were able to make the playoffs despite so many key injuries on the blue line.
The Penguins were healthy on the blue line, but Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker each missed 41 games, while Bryan Rust missed 22 and Sidney Crosby missed 13. They were able to absorb significant injuries to top-six forwards, likely due to the health of their defence.
Boston, Dallas and Calgary each had 15 skaters play 70+ games, but the Bruins regular-season health won’t carry over to this season. Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) and Brad Marchand (hip) each had off-season surgery and are expected to return by December 1st, at the earliest. Matt Grzelcyk also had shoulder surgery and is expected to be out at least until November. Mike Reilly had ankle surgery and is probable to start the season. Those four players were in the top-five in TOI/game for the Bruins last season. The Bruins need to stay in the hunt until Marchand and McAvoy return, but that is easier said than done. They currently have $4.75m in cap space but need to sign RFA forward Pavel Zacha and they are hoping Patrice Bergeron returns for another season. They don’t have the cap space to sign both, unless they put one of their injured players on LTIR to start the season, but when that player is ready to return they will be in a cap crunch.
“Availability is the best ability,” is an accurate line in pro sports. Players who manage to stay healthy are very valuable to a team, regardless of which line or D pairing they play on. The Oilers RD depth chart is pretty thin with Cody Ceci, Evan Bouchard and Tyson Barrie the only ones with NHL experience. Vincent Desharnais, Phil Kemp and Michael Kesselring might be called into action this year. Desharnais is the first option, and I expect he will get a few games this year. They could move Philip Broberg or Slater Koekkoek to the right side if needed, but if Edmonton has two injuries at once on their defence they don’t have many replacement options with NHL experience. Signing another NHL veteran D-man, even if they have to clear waivers and start the season in the AHL, is something I’d strongly consider.
Currently, the Oilers blue line doesn’t have a lot of NHL experience depth. It is plausible that Markus Niemelainen, Dmitri Samorukov and Vincent Desharnais can fill in admirably if injuries occur. I actually think the Oilers would like to get all of them some NHL games this season to see where they are at. But the overall lack of D depth is why I think the inevitable trade that Ken Holland has to make to get the Oilers under the salary cap, will be a winger instead of a D-man. The only viable trade option on defence is to move Tyson Barrie for a D-man with a lower cap hit. In a cap world that is easier said than done. Not many teams have cap space to add a player, while also offering up a solid, NHL defender in return.
Holland will have to make a trade. Currently the Oilers have $2.5m in cap space to sign Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan McLeod. Yamamoto will command more than that himself. One of Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, Warren Foegele or Barrie will be moved before the season begins. Opinions will vary on who it should be, but a trade has to happen.
I’d lean towards a forward, simply due to the injury bug. It will be easier to fill the hole of a middle six winger than a D-man.
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