Thursday, November 5, 2009

Impactful injuries


Earlier this week, the broadcasters on Versus, during the Detroit-Boston game, pondered whether Johan Franzen's injury was the biggest of the season so far. I'm shamelessly stealing the idea of what injury has hurt the most. In my opinion, Franzen isn't even in the top two. Let's take a look at some of the names. We'll start with Franzen.

Johan Franzen
Entering the season, Franzen was Detroit's top winger by a long shot. Already proven to be a prolific and clutch goal scorer, Franzen was going to be relied upon even more this year with the departures of Marian Hossa to Chicago, Jiri Hudler to the KHL and Mikael Samuelsson to Vancouver.

That's a lot of offense the Red Wings lost in those three players, who combined for 82 goals. With Franzen's injury, which could jeopardize his Olympic chances, add another 34 goals to the total.

But Detroit still has Pavel Datsyuk, who is good. And Henrik Zetterberg, who is good. The defense boasts a stable of Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall. They're good. Not only that, but the Red Wings have had bigger problems this year with their goaltending and defense, not with goal scoring.

Franzen's loss is huge, undoubtedly. But it's not the biggest.

Impact: 3 1/2 shanked pucks

Andrei Markov
This Montreal blue liner is one of the top power play specialists in the NHL. His point totals have risen the last five years, the last four of which were over 45, and the last two seasons he registered 58 and 64 points.

He is, without question, Montreal's top defenseman. And he was injured in the first game of the season. That adds to how much of a loss he is.

Can you name another Canadiens' d-man? Maybe people know Jaroslav Spacek, but probably only because he's one of the guys Bob Gainey overpaid for in the summer. Roman Hamrlik's OK and Marc-Andre Bergeron can run a power play - just don't ask him to do anything else - but neither comes close to the skill level of Markov.

The numbers of guys like Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri would be higher if Markov quarterbacked their power play.

Impact: 4 1/2 shots into the netting

Marc Savard
When I originally thought of candidates for this post, Savard was in the top two with Markov. After watching the Bruins nearly get shut out by Carey Price of all people, Savard earned the title. Boston's Patrice Bergeron scored in the final minute to tie that game with Montreal, 1-1, and snapping a scoreless streak of over 192 minutes for the Bruins. They still lost in the shootout.

Savard's absence is a ginormously humongous reason why Boston can't score. He is a very gifted playmaker who makes everyone around him better. Phil Kessel's departure to Toronto might make Savard's presence less felt - as in it balances out Savard's loss plus Kessel's - but I'd say the reverse is true: With no Kessel, Savard needs to take on an even bigger role in leading his team's attack. Maple Leafs fans want to say Savard will miss Kessel more than Kessel will miss Savard, but Savard was a 95-point player before Kessel arrived in the NHL.

David Krejci has struggled, Chuck Kobasew was traded to Minnesota, and wingers Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi haven't found any kind of consistent scoring touch. Really, it's a team effort as to why the Bruins aren't scoring, but the biggest reason is Savard being out of the lineup.

Impact: 5 clanked posts

Sheldon Souray
The most favored opponent in Minnesota, his booming shot is something Oilers coach Pat Quinn could really use. Edmonton has several other solid defensemen - Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov and Lubomir Visnovsky - but, just like the Canadiens, those guys aren't as good as Souray.

Edmonton's offense can't decide if it's really really good or really really bad. If the Oilers aren't getting shut out, they're scoring five times. Souray would bring stability and consistency to Edmonton's attack.

Impact: 3 shots right into the goalie's stomach

Sergei Gonchar
When you look at a buddy of yours during a game and ask the question, "Is he really THAT important?" and you ask it in absolute sincerity mingled with absolute disbelief, then you know a certain player's absence is huge. That's the case with Gonchar. Pittsburgh's power play since Gonchar injured his wrist is a wonderfully awful 3-for-29. The very first man-advantage opportunity was rather putrid.

The thing is, it makes no sense either. At the time, the Penguins still had Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. There's also Sidney Crosby, proven 20-goal scorers in Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski are two of the brighter young defensemen in the game, particularly Goligoski.

Neither of those two defensemen, while they've both shown a lot of poise, yet has the experience Gonchar does at running a power play. For whatever reason, Gonchar's absence has seriously and negatively affected Pittsburgh's ability to score when the opposition is down a man, despite still having a wealth of talented players available. It's kind of mind-boggling.

Impact: 4 screams of "shoot the %*@#ing puck!"

Other injuries, like Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk haven't had significant enough time to crack this list. Certainly though, those guys can't exactly be replaced by an AHL call-up. I also didn't mention Daniel Sedin, but Vancouver's sent so many players to the trainer's room it's hard to gauge just one person's impact.

Not making this list either is Roberto Luongo - Andrew Raycroft has done well - or Simon Gagne - James Van Riemsdyk has done very well. Bottom line is, there have been a lot of injuries to a lot of big-name players. I don't know if there's one reason or two or three for this, or if it's all just a rash of bad luck.

So the lesson is, if you're a star in the NHL these days, make sure your insurance is paid up.

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