It’s one of the toughest sports on the planet and with ever-increasing speeds out there, hockey can cut down even the most formidable players. Every season at least a few stars are felled by various injuries and 2018-19 was no exception. And while hockey is a team game, there are players whose absence can make the difference between a franchise making the post-season and missing it altogether.
For the players themselves, getting back to 100 percent is always paramount and that competitive fire really takes over when you’re on the shelf. So who’s looking for a bounceback campaign next year? Here are five prominent players who missed significant time with injuries this past season.
Taylor Hall, LW, New Jersey
The most crucial absence of them all, Hall’s knee injury limited him to just 33 games and the Devils fell into a crevasse. Year over year, New Jersey went from a playoff team to 29th overall and needless to say, the offense wasn’t the same either. The Devils scored 26 fewer goals than they did in 2017-18 and not coincidentally, the speedy Hall tends to help the puck get in the net when he’s on the ice.
If there was a silver lining, it’s that running mate Nico Hischier did not suffer a sophomore slump in Hall’s absence: the Swiss pivot actually upped his points-per-game after a stellar rookie campaign (though he too missed time due to a lower-body injury). Oh, and the Devils won the draft lottery and selected Jack Hughes first overall – so I guess that’s two silver linings.
Matt Dumba, D, Minnesota
Another tough break with real consequences, Dumba played only 32 games due to an upper-body injury and the Wild ended up missing the playoffs. Now, that seven-point gap is large, but Dumba was playing extremely well before he got laid up. He easily would have smashed his previous NHL goal-scoring high (he had 12 when he went down; his best is 14) and the strong two-way defender was playing a meaty 23:23 minutes per game.
Given that Dumba will only be 25 at the start of next season, he has the chance to replicate those early numbers and that will give Minnesota a very necessary shot in the arm.
Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg
Even with ‘Big Buff’ missing 40 games due to a variety of maladies (most notably an ankle injury), the Jets easily made the playoff field and Byfuglien put up some very impressive offensive numbers from the back end in a first-round loss to St. Louis. Of course, the Jets only lost the division to Nashville by one point and just a few more healthy games for Byfuglien could have helped the Jets avoid the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the first round, but that’s purely speculative, of course.
The hope now, of course, is that the big-bodied 34-year-old can still wrest a lot of productive hockey out of his frame while the Jets are in their championship window. Staying healthy is job No. 1.
Vince Trocheck, C, Florida
Trocheck, an excellent two-way center who wasn’t blessed with a big frame, had been on a steep incline the prior two seasons before 2018-19 smacked him in the face with leg/ankle trouble, limiting him to 55 games overall. For several years now, Florida has seemed to be one piece of bad luck away from a playoff spot and Trocheck’s absence this past year would certainly qualify. But with Sergei Bobrovsky now in net and Joel Quenneville behind the bench, a healthy Cats squad should be playoff-bound, especially if they get 82 games from Trocheck.
Paul Stastny, C, Vegas
Limited to 50 games due to a lower-body injury, Stastny missed all his time at the beginning of the year – and not coincidentally, Vegas struggled. But the Golden Knights bounced back and even got reinforcements by trading for Mark Stone before the deadline. Nonetheless, they fell to San Jose in the playoffs under the most controversial of circumstances.
Now, with a healthy Stastny back full-time, the Golden Knights can head back to their mission of winning a Cup and given that Stastny had 42 points in his truncated 2018-19, the talented center will be one to watch once again. Enough to go all the way? We’ll have to wait and see.