Sadly, the NHL lockout resulted in the cancellation of the Winter Classic, and with it went the excellent 24/7 series on HBO. But never fear hockey fans and TV junkies, there are reports the cable network is spawning a Walking Dead spinoff entitled The Walking Wounded. It’s based on the first week of the NHL season in which players are being injured at a disturbingly high rate.
Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs broke his forearm in Wednesday’s win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’ll be out of commission for six weeks. But keep in mind the Leafs are playing 48 games in 99 days this season. If he misses a full six weeks, that works out to approximately 20 games, which is getting close to half the season. A night earlier, the Flyers’ Scott Hartnell broke his foot. He, too, could miss up to six weeks. Reliable L.A. Kings defenceman Matt Greene has been lost for the season with a back injury. However, the biggest loss of the week was suffered by the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs will be without Steve Downie for the remainder of the season after he tore his ACL against the Kings on Tuesday.
Let’s get one thing clear – these injuries had nothing to do with the lockout. They were freak occurrences that could have happened at any time, to anyone – just they just seem to happen to Lupul ALL the time.
Four nights; four significant injuries to players being heavily counted on by their teams. The nightly highlight shows have become a who’s who of hurting NHLers. Even if a team wins and gets two points in the standings, it can still suffer a loss if a catastrophic injury is suffered.
The lockout just might be responsible for the mounting injuries that are relatively minor. These seemingly innocuous injuries, however, can lead to more severe ones if players try to rush back into the lineup. I’m sure all players are getting the best medical treatment available, but preventable injuries (strains, sprains, etc) tend to be the result of players not being in peak condition. The Lupul, Hartnell and Downie injuries were freak accidents, yes, but they’re significance becomes magnified when teammates are skipping games because of groin strains, pulled stomach muscles, and the ever-popular upper or lower body injury, which this year is code for “this guy is out of shape.”
The Detroit Red Wings presently have nine players who are at least questionable for their next game, and the Flyers have eight players in sick bay. In January of any other season, this wouldn’t come as a huge surprise. But we’re FIVE days into the season – and teams DID NOT play a single pre-season game. This, folks, is ridiculous. But it’s what happens when half the league goes months without playing a meaningful game.
Watching all of this with interest are the dozens of unrestricted free agents, hungry for gainful employment. The pickings for understaffed teams are fairly slim though. Of all the UFAs available, not one qualifies as a top-six forward, and there doesn’t appear to be a defenceman who can play heavy minutes, although I suppose Pavel Kubina and Chris Campoli could help your power play – if you’re PP was really bad.
Nope, the cavalry isn’t coming for banged up, undermanned teams. Instead, they’ll be forced to look within their organizations for players who can step in and contribute. This is where organizational depth comes in handy. No one would accuse the Leafs of being a stocked organization, but it’s to their credit that Matt Frattin has been recalled to replace Lupul. Frattin is an offensive-minded player the Leafs can plug into their top six. He’s a good skater, has nice hands, and possesses a good shot. These attributes far outshine any forward available on the UFA market. The majority of these guys fall into the older, slower, over-the-hill category. They’re the type of player you’d take only if half your roster got hurt and you needed players to fill out your AHL squad.
The Flyers, a team short on organizational depth, have been forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel by signing 40-year-old winger Mike Knuble, who scored all of six goals in 72 games last season with Washington. The San Jose Sharks are so desperate for warm bodies they have signed Scott Gomez for the rest of the season. The Detroit Red Wings have inked defenceman Kent Huskins and the Washington Capitals have decided to employ Eric Fehr. Yes, the same Eric Fehr who scored two goals in 35 games with Winnipeg last season.
The NHL is supposed to be the best league in the world. But Lord help us if the best players can’t stay healthy. In the end, the fans pay top dollar to watch minor-leaguers playing in exhibition-calibre games.
Welcome to the post-lockout NHL.