We've always had some deception when it comes to injuries. It's as much misdirection as it is deceitful and I don't lay much blame for any team doing it. There's seldom an advantage, though in contact sports, there are ways to exploit injuries by targeting them. We'd like to think that there's some sort of gentleman's agreement that you wouldn't go after a guy's weak point, but it's just not there, as much as we'd like to think it was. In calling Patrick Marleau's problem a "soft tissue" injury, it tells us nothing. It could be a groin strain, it could be a small meniscus tear, or it could be a deep bruise. So, is there any real advantage for a team (or for you) in knowing which it is? (Yes, it's one of those.) That's one of the great questions for injury analysis - how much is too much and by saying that Marleau has a specific injury, am I opening him up for more injury? Is there a right to know for the hockey fan or fantasy player? My answer is that it's up to a team to protect it's players and for the players to do it when the team fails. Marleau is going to have to protect that thigh when he comes back. With the Sharks coasting towards the playoffs, they can afford to let him heal up before putting their captain back on the ice.
"We're going to assess it as an undisclosed injury that's going to be reassessed at the beginning of next week." That's what Claude Julien told the Boston Globe last week. So why even say that? Phil Kessel's out, largely because the Bruins have the #1 slot locked up in the East and can afford to rest the young shooter. He's been in and out of practice since mid-March, making some wonder if it's fatigue except he's not a rookie and has played two long seasons previous to this one.
It's a shoulder injury, according to sources, likely a separation/subluxation, and one that the team is trying to protect with harnesses, tape, and rest. They're taking the opportunity to use the rest and treatment as they head into the playoffs, where they'll need their leading scorer and only breakaway threat. Sorry, Claude, but you're right. I am in the business of exposing your players, if you want to look at it that way.
Detroit has clinched their playoff spot, perhaps the one bright spot in the Detroit metro area these days. That gives them some leeway in getting their players healthy, knocking the rust off some back-of-bench guys, and setting things up. Brian Rafalski has had a nice season, but he's dealing with what's alternately described as a groin and hamstring strain. Sources tell me that it's high up and to the inside of his leg, making the description of the location a bit shaky, though most think it's the groin. If you look at how the muscles and tendons interact in that area and that Rafalski is feeling it tighten up on the push, groin is again the more likely culprit. He'll be off the ice about a week, but should be fine in time for the playoffs.
Just like hitters in baseball, shooters in hockey can't afford even small injuries to their hands. Tomas Kaberle is a blue-line sniper, so it affects him even more. The Leafs have been bad this year, hurting him in some of the standard stats and shortening his opportunities, but it's the hand injuries that have really made him a disappointment this season. With only a couple weeks left and no playoff hopes, bringing Kaberle back is a bit of a risky proposition. Yes, it would be nice to have him back and see what he can do, but the chance that he's hit or that the hand isn't ready is pretty big. The Leafs are saying he'll play Wednesday night (this column was turned in before lineups) so watch closely. I'd expect his ice time to be pretty low.
Brad Richards, Stephane Robidas
Dallas might be my biggest disappointment (team category) this year. I didn't expect them to be up there with Detroit and Calgary, but I did expect them solidly in the playoffs. That's why I talk about injuries and not gambling for a living. Injuries have been a part of why they've underperformed, but Brad Richards is one of those shake-your-head bad luck stories. After missing 15 games with a broken wrist, he was hit on the hand (I don't judge) and it was broken. It's the hand opposite the wrist fracture, so there's no real interconnection here, just "bad luck" or if you will, "part of the game." The game has so many of these that I wonder if there's something more that can be done with equipment. I'm a big advocate of safety changes coming from advances in equipment rather than rule changes. Richards is done for the season, but Stephane Robidas should come back from his sprained ankle in a couple more games. The Stars are very short-handed right now, so Robidas might be pushed back before he's fully healed, which could be exploited if he's forced to skate much. The Stars will need to spot him and match him well to keep him from being overtaxed.
Does size matter in the NHL? I don't know and that's a question I hope we ask as we build out our toolbox here at Puck Prospectus. We did a series of articles over at Baseball Prospectus about height and weight, but with the NHL, we just don't know yet. Bouchard is a small, quick player that wasn't small or quick enough to avoid a concussion a few games back. The worst part is that he's still experiencing post-concussive symptoms, never a good sign. Throughout sports, we've seen something of a change in the way concussions and other brain injuries are dealt with, though it's hardly enough given the terrible damage that can be done. It's not getting your "bell rung," it's getting your brain bruised. Give more credit to the Wild for doing the right thing and holding him out when they're fighting for a playoff spot.
Ever wonder why they say "flu-like symptoms" instead of flu? The fact is, there's lots of things that have similar symptoms and it's the easiest one to say, even without a definitive diagnosis. Yes, sometimes teams use FLS instead of "hangover" or "ate some bad clams" but for the most part, it's the type of symptoms you'd expect. There's nothing to do usually but wait them out, same as you or I would. The key difference is trying to deal with weight loss, strength and stamina issues, and dehydration. It's this last that teams have found the most important, making them quick to hook a coughing/sneezing player up to an IV in his hotel room. Semin is dealing with FLS and missed one game, but is expected back for the Caps next time out, though he'll be watched closely for fatigue.
Even with the protection given them by the rules and their teammates, it's always surprised me how few injuries goalies get. Kari Lehtonen has one, called an upper body injury, suffered in his last game out. Prior to that game against the Rangers, Lehtonen had looked terrible in goal, so there's some thought that the injury isn't a traumatic one that occurred. Unfortunately, the case is that he took a hit from Sean Avery (insert groan here) and smacked his head on the ice. It was lessened by his mask, but the least protection on most masks is in the back. Let's assume this is some sort of concussion and that Lehtonen's return is unknown. The Thrashers are out of playoff contention, so let's hope they don't feel the need to rush Lehtonen back out between the pipes. Johan Hedberg is playing better anyway.
It wasn't long ago that the Avalanche were an elite team. Now, they're just fighting with the Islanders for Victor Hedman in next year's draft. Now, they'll finish the season without Paul Stastny. Statsny didn't learn anything from breaking his forearm blocking a shot. This time, his foot got in the way and broke as well. Oddly, it took the team a couple days and a CT scan to find the fracture, so it must not be too significant. He's young and seems to be poised to be the Avs #1 guy for a while, but he's going to have to learn to get the heck out of the way if he wants to stay on the ice./