Injury Ninja in Sochi

Posted: February 20, 2014 in Uncategorized
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The Sochi winter Olympics have provided the hockey loving folk some great games, and for the NHL GM’s a stack of grey hairs as the injury ninja sweeps the games. So far, the losses (NHL only) have been as follows:

  • Henrik Zetterberg – Sweden/Red Wings: Left the games with a herniated disc and flew back to Detroit to be evaluated. Season potentially in jeopardy.
  • Aleksander Barkov – Finland/Florida Panthers: Injured his knee against Norway. Team Finland doctors said that it is unlikely that Barkov will need surgery for the injury, but is sidelined for 4-6 weeks. There’s roughly 8 weeks of the NHL season left for Barkov as Panthers are not going to make it to the play-offs.
  • Tomas Kopecky – Slovakia/Florida Panthers: Got hit in the head against Slovenia. No timeline for return has been announced.
  • Mats Zuccarello – Norway/New York Rangers: non-displaced fracture in his hand. No timeline for return has been announced.
  • John Tavares – Canada/ New York Islanders: Leg injury, no timeline for return announced. Edit: It was announced that Tavares would miss the remainder of the season after it was revealed that he sustained a torn MCL and a torn meniscus. He might avoid surgery, but should he need it he is ready for training camp for 2014-2015 season.

Those are just the players that are out of the games and potentially from their respective NHL club games. The list does not take into account small nagging injuries that players may have carried pre-Olympics. The Sochi Winter Olympics came at a time in the NHL season – and hockey season in general – that there is not a single player that is 100% healthy.

Zetterberg is possibly the biggest loss to his club team. The Red Wings’ captain is due to undergo exams if his back requires surgery straight away or if it is safe for him to carry on to the end of the season and potential play-offs. Tavares is another big loss as he is a huge part of the Islanders’ offense. Where Islanders have an uphill battle to get to the play-offs Tavares is a loss that will be felt in the line-up (depending on the severity of his injury).

The NHL and IIHF have a contract in place for the NHL to be part of these Olympics and then it is up for review. Could you imagine if some one like Sidney Crosby suffered an injury that would sideline him for a long time at the Olympics? Where some of the above players have been injured in ‘meaningless games’ (apart from Tavares), the NHL GM’s – specially those in Florida – will be tearing their hair out. A point on the frustration that the international competitions provide team executives, is when Barkov was injured and it was announced that he was out. He received a call from his GM, Dale Tallon, which was described as (Tallon being) frustrated. Barkov is one of the rising stars of a young Panthers roster and has struggled with injuries before and during the season (he underwent shoulder surgery before camp).

Similar concerns are always shared by GMs during the annual World Championships and many players are looking to go play for their national teams. At the end of a gruelling NHL season, every minor injury is examined and NHL medical staff is often reticent to let players go if there are signs of injuries. Sometimes, players’ desire to go and play for their countries is going to over ride the doctors. Alex Ovechkin, for example, played a few games for Russia in the 2013 World Championships with a broken foot. Speaks volumes of his toughness and desire to play, but I bet it caused some grief to GMGM.

So all in all, when the IIHF and the NHL sit down to talk about the NHL’s continued participation at the Winter Olympics, there will surely be questions raised as to whether teams will want to let their assets go and risk injury at the Olympics stage. In my opinion, the NHL will continue to be part of the Olympics as it is a stage for it to market itself and compete the ever expanding KHL. The risk the NHL has is that some of the more patriotic players may defect to leagues which allow them to compete in the Olympics and World Championships.

It’s going to be another four years before the South-Korean Olympics so there is time, but having said that, there was time to avoid the last lockout and I’m sure IIHF will want the contract in place well in advance for the 2018 Winter Games.

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