On Wednesday night, Rangers left winger Ruslan Fedotenko was knocked out of action for two-to-four weeks with a separated shoulder. Earlier in the day, the Blueshirts announced their MVP this season, center Brandon Dubinsky, would be out for three-to-four weeks with a stress fracture in his left leg. They already were playing without injured veterans Ryan Callahan, Alex Frolov, Vinny Prospal, Erik Christensen and Derek Boogaard before Dubinsky and Fedotenko joined them on the sidelines.
You’d feel bad for the misfortune suffered by what appears to be a hardworking Rangers team – if nearly every other franchise in the league wasn’t bitten just as hard by the injury bug.
The Anaheim Ducks have been without cornerstone center Ryan Getzlaf since late December thanks to nasal and sinus fractures. Sabres center Derek Roy won’t play again this season because he tore his left quadriceps tendon a month ago. The Avs are without Peter Mueller or Ryan O’Reilly for the foreseeable future.
The Red Wings are a walking M.A.S.H. unit and won’t have Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart, Chris Osgood or Mike Modano in their lineup anytime soon. Same goes for the Oilers; they’ve just added Ales Hemsky to an injured list that also has Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Whitney, Jordan Eberle and Jim Vandermeer on it. The Pittsburgh Penguins won’t have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on the ice for their next game and played without Jordan Staal for most of the season until he returned Jan. 1.
I could go on and on. The Canadiens (Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges), Predators (Matthew Lombardi, Steve Sullivan, Cal O’Reilly), Islanders (Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo and what feels like 23 others), Senators (Jason Spezza, Alexei Kovalev), Blues (David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Andy McDonald) and Capitals (Alex Semin, Eric Fehr, Tom Poti) all have major injury concerns to cope with.
The NHL used to stand for the National Hockey League. Now, it ought to stand for the National Hurting League.
Now, some injuries are unavoidable, while others befall fragile players such as Pascal Leclaire or Rick DiPietro. But what we’re seeing now is something different and more ominous.
We’re seeing the results of a compressed 82-game schedule. We’re seeing the toll of meaningless pre-season games and playoffs that stretch into mid-June. We’re seeing the consequences of training demands placed on players from their early teens right through their final professional game.
And as a result of that, we’re seeing more and more American League players on NHL ice rinks and asking fans to pay NHL prices to see them. Can you imagine if Gary Bettman gets his way and expands the league by two teams in the near future? We very easily could be watching ECHL players jumping up on a regular basis.
There are ways to address the continuing rash of physical woes, including the elimination of the pre-season altogether, or the whittling down of it to one or two games at most. At present, teams play as many as nine exhibition games before the regular season begins; that’s a brazen money grab for the owners and a waste of time and energy for players who are physically fit all year round.
As well, the reduction of the regular season – say by eight games, or roughly 10 percent of the current schedule – would give NHLers more time to rest their beleaguered frames. But both of these ideas are long-shots, because team owners (who hold the real power for change) are loathe to give up their 46 percent of revenues in those games.
That’s another part of the problem. If the children of team owners were being hurt at an increasing rate, you can bet your health insurance plan there would be quick and effective action to stop or reduce it. But these captains of industry are too happy to simply sit back and profit from the physical decimation night after night.
Recently on Broadway, the Spider-Man musical came under heavy criticism for a troubling spate of injuries suffered by cast members. It made no sense to the cast – nor, for that matter, the paying public – to have the names on the marquee constantly replaced by fill-ins and understudies, so changes were made to make the production safer.
The NHL has no such qualms about the slipping quality of product they ask customers to pay for. Because of that callous attitude, regular season games are becoming more and more like pre-season games: dotted with familiar names and faces, but more and more, filled with a cast of characters you’d need a Google search to recognize.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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