by PuckStopsHere on 11/16/09 at 12:52 PM ET
One problem that can derail a team is injuries. When several core players get hurt simultaneously, it is very hard for a team to continue to compete at their expected level. Predictably, some of the more injured teams this season have been the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. These are the two teams that have competed in the Stanley Cup finals in each of the last two years and have thus had the shortest summers. Short summers lead to less time to recover from the long NHL season and less time for recurring injuries to get better.
Detroit started off the season with a rash of injuries. Johan Franzen had knee surgery very early in the season. Valtteri Filppula has a broken wrist. Andreas Lilja has missed the entire season so far recovering from a concussion suffered last year. To make matters worse, free agent signee Jason Williams has a broken leg. In October, Detroit seemed to be the team most affected by injuries, though they have recovered from a relatively slow start. Detroit has won seven of their last ten games (including three straight) and currently hold down sixth seed in the West Conference.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have had injuries to more of their core players. Sergei Gonchar broke his wrist. Evgeni Malkin missed eight games with a shoulder injury. It appears that Alex Goligoski will miss some time with a groin injury. Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy and Maxime Talbot are all out for various reasons. The Penguins have probably been the team most heavily hit by injuries at this point in the season. They are off to a good start nevertheless. They currently hold down fourth seed in the East Conference with 26 points, but they have fallen from a top seed as their injuries have mounted.
There isn’t a clear solution to this problem. Obviously teams want to have deep playoff runs. The problem is one or two deep playoff runs will increase the possibility of injuries in their next season and thus make it harder to repeat. This is another factor to increase the apparent parity in the NHL. Top teams will likely be some of the more injured teams, as they have the shortest summer breaks. This shows how close players are getting to their breaking points with the heavy NHL schedule. Add in an Olympiad this year and the race to the Stanley Cup becomes even more of an endurance race than usual. It is a reasonable bet to pick teams that did not have deep playoff runs last year to be better able to survive the endurance race. The “usual suspects” in Pittsburgh and Detroit have been showing effects of two consecutive short summers. They remain top teams, but it will be hard to make another deep Stanley Cup run after another long season.
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