Here’s to Their Health
At this time of the hockey season, all 30 NHL teams believe they’ve got a chance to make the playoffs. As the season progresses, some teams’ flaws will be exposed and some of those flaws will prove fatal to any postseason hopes. The one flaw that can afflict all 30 teams without discrimination is health, or lack thereof.
Last season, the Washington Capitals held a respectable 15-10-7 record in mid-December. But they lost defensemen John Erskine, Bryan Muir and Shaone Morrisonn to injury or illness within days of each other. Steve Eminger and Mike Green were both felled by the flu just after Christmas, and the Caps had to turn to Hershey for reinforcements. Jeff Schultz, Lawrence Nycholat, Timo Helbling and Jamie Hunt were all summoned from the Bears in late December.
The Caps didn’t know it at the time of course, but they were already more than halfway to their final win total for the season (28). The Caps went 1-7 during an eight-game stretch and were 9-24-5 over a longer haul, starting with that injury-riddled stretch in December.
Most of us believe that the team has more depth to withstand such on onslaught of injuries this season. But then, lots of teams in the NHL believe the same thing at this stage of the campaign. The best course of action is to stay healthy and let the cards fall where they may.
At the end of last season, I came into possession of a spreadsheet that documents man-games lost to injuries by NHL clubs on a yearly basis dating back to 1998-99. Caps fans will remember that as the season in which Washington set a franchise record for man-games lost to injury at 511, and posting a dismal 31-45-6 record in the process. That figure of 511 has been eclipsed four times since, and as you’d expect, none of those teams made the playoffs either.
In fact, during the period covered by the spreadsheet none of the teams that has led the NHL in man-games lost to injury has ever made the playoffs. The most-injury riddled Stanley Cup champion over that time span was the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes, which lost 267 man-games to injury, the 11th highest total in the league that season.
Anaheim was 29th in the NHL with 102 man-games lost last season. Ottawa was 30th at just 82. There are your Stanley Cup finalists right there.
The highest single-season total was the 629 man-games lost by the 2003-04 Los Angeles Kings, who posted a remarkably resilient 28-29-16-9 record. The lowest single-season total came during that same 2003-04 season, a mere 34 man-games lost by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts won the Cup that season.
Washington has fared much better in the injury department since its ill-fated ’98-99 campaign. The 2003-04 Caps lost 331 man-games, the 11th highest total that season. The 2001-02 Caps, an aging bunch, lost 255 games but that figure was seventh highest in the league that season. Washington’s best season injury-wise during the period of the study was 2002-03, when the Caps lost just 111 man games, 29th in the league. That’s also the last season in which the Capitals qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Overall during the period covered by the study, the Caps are right in the middle of the road. They’ve lost an average of 250 man games to injury per season, 15th among all NHL teams during that span. The league’s least healthy team during that stretch has been the St. Louis Blues with an average of 349 man-games lost per season. The healthiest team has been the New Jersey Devils, with an average of just 134 per campaign.
It’s probably worth noting that the Devils are the only NHL team with multiple Stanley Cup championships in the period covered by the study.