The NHL is only having a 48-game season this year as we all know, which means that every game matters and every player is going to be critical in helping his team make a push for a playoff spot. However, with limited practice and low levels of conditioning due to the shortened preseason, it was also expected that there would be a great deal of mistakes made by teams that could possibly lead to injuries. The season is not even five games old for most teams and already three key players on three different teams are out for extended periods of time.
On Tuesday night, Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Downie injured his knee after getting checked hard into the boards in his team’s 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. On Wednesday, it was discovered that Downie tore his ACL and would need surgery to repair it, sidelining him for the rest of the season. This is a huge blow to the Avalanche, losing their second-line winger for the rest of the season who they had just picked up this offseason from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
However, the injury bug did not stop there. On the same night, Philadelphia Flyers’ forward Scott Hartnell left the game after his teammate Kimmo Timonen’s shot hit him in the skate in their 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. The diagnosis was a broken left metatarsal and the recovery time is expected to be anywhere from 4-8 weeks. Hartnell will be sorely missed on the Flyers. An assistant captain, his grit electrifies the team, and his ability to score and create offense is something that cannot be duplicated by any other player. The Flyers are going to be hard pressed to find someone who can put up 37 goals and 30 assists like Hartnell did last season.
But wait, there’s more. On Wednesday night Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward Joffrey Lupul broke his forearm in his team’s 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The injury occurred in the front of the net while Lupul was cutting across when teammate Dion Phaneuf’s slap shot caught him right in the arm. It was reported that Lupul will miss at least six weeks. Lupul was a key player in the Leafs’ offense last season, scoring 67 points and 25 goals and had just signed a five year contract worth $5.25 million per season, days before the injury.
Perhaps these injuries could have been avoided if training camps were longer and the teams had more time with one another so they could be better prepared for what was coming at them. However, hockey is an unpredictable sport; sometimes unfortunate injuries like this simply happen and they can be devastating, but it’s all part of the game. Having said that, one thing that the shortened season does is make these long term injuries much more meaningful.
Any player sidelined for around two months is obviously going to be a critical loss for his team if he was an everyday player, but now it will mean even more. A typical season is seven months long, so even if a player is out for two months he would still be able to play for a majority of the season. But this season is not seven months long, it’s four. Now the same injury that would take a decent amount of games away from a player is now taking almost half the year. Injuries like these can possibly define how a team ends up in the standings at the end of the year. Can the Flyers survive without Hartnell’s scoring and leadership? Will Lupul being injured be the missing piece that the Leafs needed to make a playoff run? Will Downie’s absence hurt the Avalanche’s chance of making the playoffs? Only time will tell, but I can guarantee that these injuries will majorly impact these teams.