Key forwards from the Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers suffered injuries less than a week after training camps opened.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
There's little to gain from the NHL preseason but so many things to lose.
Unfortunately, a few NHL teams are experiencing the latter phenomenon.
Key forwards from the Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers suffered injuries less than a week after training camps opened, and their respective teams could feel the effects deep into the 2014-15 season.
Carolina centerman Jordan Staal, forward Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings and Rangers center Derek Stepan all are expected to miss the start of the season with various injuries sustained this week. Datsyuk and Staal both were hurt in exhibition games Monday night, while Stepan fractured his left fibula Tuesday morning in a conditioning drill.
The Red Wings star separated his shoulder and Detroit general manager Ken Holland told reporters Datsyuk could miss about four weeks, a timetable which would see the Russian return two weeks into the season. Staal, who broke a bone in the lower part of his left leg, and Stepan are likely to miss more time than that.
Of course, this is just how things go in a physical sport like hockey. Training camps and exhibition games are necessary evils designed to whip players into the best possible shape in the shortest amount of time. There are always casualties along the way, something the events of the last few days have made painfully obvious.
The Hurricanes, Rangers and Red Wings all suffered blows to their offensive depth thanks to these injuries, but the good news is each team has time to regroup and prepare to go forward without their ailing teammates. Some of the clubs, however, are better equipped to deal with the injuries and make the playoffs than others.
Although Datsyuk is the most recognizable face of the group mentioned above, there's a chance Detroit can get by without the center for a few weeks. The club learned to cope last season when Datsyuk and fellow star forward Henrik Zetterberg only played in 45 regular-season games apiece. Somehow, head coach Mike Babcock managed to keep the Red Wings afloat as the franchise punched its ticket to the playoffs for a 23rd straight time.
The bad news for Detroit is Datsyuk's injury woes are becoming a regular occurrence. The two-way threat turned 36 years old over the summer and he hasn't played in more than 70 games since the 2009-10 season. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, losing Datsyuk for sizeable chunks of the season seems to be the new normal.
Detroit hopes Zetterberg can take on more offensive responsibility as the club's top center while Datsyuk is out. That pushes centers Stephen Weiss and Darren Helm up the depth chart, which isn't an ideal situation for the Red Wings but at least gives Babcock some veteran options. One potential problem is Weiss also had an injury-plagued 2013-14 season, playing in just 26 games for Detroit.
The injury fallout in Carolina and New York is messier, as neither club is as blessed down the middle as Detroit.
Stepan is New York's top centerman and he tied for the club lead with 40 assists last season. Derick Brassard is capable of replacing Stepan's production on the top unit, but the domino effect could put the defending Eastern Conference champions in a tough situation to begin the season.
Dominic Moore, who was very effective as a fourth-line pivot for New York last season, was thought to be a stretch at the No. 3 center spot and now may be forced to play on the second line. Of the remaining centerman at New York's camp, Matthew Lombardi (536 career games) is the only guy with a wealth of NHL experience. J.T. Miller and Chris Mueller have played in 102 combined contests, while Oscar Lindberg and Kevin Hayes have yet to skate at the NHL level.
The good news for Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is the strength of his team still resides in the club's deep blue line and the steady play of star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Additionally, the club is still littered with offensive weapons up front. Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash provide a veteran scoring presence and young speedsters Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin can push the pace of a game into overdrive. Stepan's loss hurts, but not having him for a few months shouldn't completely derail the Blueshirts season.
Last, and seemingly least likely to weather the injury storm, are the Hurricanes. Carolina finished 10 points behind the Red Wings for the last playoff spot in the East last season, and were counted as a long shot to make the postseason in 2014-15 before Staal's broken leg.
Staal, younger brother of Carolina top centerman Eric Staal, is a lesser offensive talent than his more famous sibling, but he does play a valuable defensive role on the second line while also driving puck possession.
The 'Canes now may be forced to use Elias Lindholm, a 19-year-old rookie, at center on the second line. Lindholm, the fifth overall pick of the 2013 draft, is talented but the increased role could prove to be more than the young Swede can handle. It's a lot to ask of Lindholm, who was originally going to be used as a winger this season before Staal was injured.
There is hope Riley Nash, another former first-round pick, is capable of taking on the third-line spot because that would allow veteran Jay McClement to skate on the fourth line as Carolina had initially planned.
Of course, all these clubs could choose to pull off a trade or bring in an unsigned free agent to fill the voids left by injury. Of the three teams it seems the Rangers would be the most likely candidate to take the aggressive approach to solving their depth problems, and even they may not be able to throw money at the problem due to having a limited amount of cap space.
Perhaps the best approach for teams dealing with preseason injuries is to lay off the panic button and take a closer look at the guys who are still around. While it's not ideal to lose players before the games start to count, it does serve as a reminder that the long and difficult road of a NHL season is full of surprises.
Sometimes the surprises are good, but more often they are problems in need of solving. We'll have to wait for the start of the regular season to see if anybody in Carolina, Detroit or New York has the right answers.