Injuries are an unfortunate reality in hockey, but some teams are better equipped to deal with a loss than others. If you’re Montreal and Carey Price goes down, well, you’ve got Jaroslav Halak as a pretty good stopgap. The Bruins are still flying high in the East despite currently missing six regulars.
But then there are the teams with slimmer margins of error. Those squads – the St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders – are going to be the ones with the most lottery balls in the hopper when the season ends.
With the Blues, the heartache comes largely on defense. Looking back at the depth charts from our 2008-09 Yearbook, St. Louis is without two of its top-four projected defensemen, Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson – both of whom have long-term maladies. Jay McKee (also top-four) missed 11 games with a broken finger, while Roman Polak will now be out indefinitely with a broken foot.
Of course, it’s hard to feel sorry for the blueline when St. Louis is also missing top-six forwards Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald (not to mention Keith Tkachuk for the short-term). The Blues don’t have world-beating goaltending, so you can see why they currently sit 26th overall in the NHL.
I think they’ll drop even further, though. Ottawa may not make a run to the playoffs, but they can at least ride a relatively healthy lineup to some wins, especially if rookie netminder Brian Elliott can steal some more games for them. Atlanta now has some semblance of offensive balance thanks to the “Rich Peverley Experience” rolling into town and immediately finding chemistry with newly christened captain Ilya Kovalchuk. Peverley, the Nashville cast-off, has six points in three games with the Dirty Birds.
However, one team no one will drop below is the Islanders. As if goaltending wasn’t important enough to a team whose leading scorer last year (Mike Comrie) didn’t crack 50 points, the Isles have been killed by the netminding position. ‘Franchise’ Rick DiPietro is running out of lower body parts to injure and is on pace to play nine games this season – if he isn’t shut down entirely before that. Backup Joey MacDonald, who didn’t exactly have a wealth of experience coming into the season, anyway, is day-to-day with a groin injury.
And the Isles’ last-ditch, hail mary-hope for stability? Claimed off re-entry waivers by the Blue Jackets, who will use Wade Dubielewicz sparingly as a backup to Calder front-runner Steve Mason until Pascal Leclaire is healthy.
You have to wonder what New York did to Columbus for the Jackets to snake them so viciously. Mason is going to play almost every start until Leclaire comes back and you would think a team that plays a defensively responsible game could rally around Dan Lacosta for 60 minutes once in a blue moon. But, Columbus is in a playoff chase and must regard each game as sacrosanct, so fair play.
Either way, if the odds work out, I can easily see John Tavares in St. Louis and Victor Hedman in Long Island. And that’s not a horrible scenario. St. Louis is a great hockey market and a player with Brett Hull-like goal-scoring prowess would certainly fit in well. As for Hedman in Long Island…well, at least he’ll be able to develop into an NHLer without too much of a spotlight on him.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.