Every year, some teams invariably get the short straw when it comes to injury. The Washington Capitals, notably, were the healthiest team in the league, and ended up winning the Presidents’ Trophy. That said, organizational depth is absolutely vital, as the Penguins survived well enough to repeat championships, even though they were bottom-5 in man games lost. Ultimately, there are a few franchises that are merely anticipating a restart in 2017-18, in hopes of entirely forgetting the abuses of last season. These three teams are those which suffered the worst, and have a solid chance to rebound in the upcoming campaign.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning lost Steven Stamkos for the majority of the season after he was diagnosed with a torn meniscus in November. He missed an astounding total of 65 games. Ryan Callahan was also lost for the majority of the year, losing 64 games of action to a lower-body injury. After that, the onslaught of injuries kept hammering away. Nikita Kucherov only lost 8 games, but was felled on three separate occasions. Ondrej Palat missed only 9 games as well, but his presence was sorely missed when absent. Cedric Paquette lost 23 games, while Tyler Johnson missed 16. It seemed that no one was safe on Tampa’s squad more man-games than an other teams when you factor in essentially retired players.
Tampa will look to remain healthy this season, after an incredibly unlucky venture in 2016-17. They have the depth to endure losses, but the sheer carnage last season was too catastrophic to overcome. Still, they finished only one point out of the final wild card spot. They could easily have squeaked into the playoffs and inflicted serious damage. This year, as long as the fates turn their way, they should be right back in the competitive mix.
Tyler Myers lost out on the bulk of the season, only playing in 11 contests. As a big component of the team’s defense, he will need to be back to peak performance if the Jets hope to stop some of the bleeding in their own end of the ice. Center Bryan Little lost 23 games to a lower-body injury, while Shawn Matthias missed 37 contests to an upper-body ailment. Not a single player survived the entire year without succumbing to some sort of injury or sickness, and the team as a whole struggled to find a consistent groove with so many bodies filling in and falling out.
The Jets need consistent goaltending and less obnoxiously aggressive defense if they hope to reach the post-season again. That said, simply remaining healthy will go a long way in transforming Winnipeg into a dangerous team. Mark Scheifele was absolutely dominant last season, and with reliable depth behind him, only good results lie ahead. The Central is also slightly less intimidating this year, even with Dallas making as many transactions as they did. Nashville and Chicago both took steps backward, the Blues remained relatively the same, while the Wild made lateral moves.
Vancouver will have a tough time entering the playoff conversation. In the relatively weak Pacific however, anything can happen. The Sedin twins are another year older, and GM Jim Benning hasn’t acquired any game-breakers in the off-season (Michael Del Zotto doesn’t count). Still, when a team loses over 300 man-games to injury in a year, things should theoretically improve the following year. Admittedly, some of their most heavily injured players were nominal players, like Derek Dorsett (68 lost) and Anton Rodin (79 lost). Still, they missed the presence of multiple depth players at a time and ultimately relied too heavily upon call-ups to crawl through the year. Jannik Hansen (39 lost), Chris Tanev (29 lost), and Erik Gudbranson (52 lost) are far from world-beaters, but on a team as thin at both offense and defense as the Canucks, their losses were unsustainable.
It remains to be seen how much of an impact general health will play for the Canucks. They still need their top players to find consistent production, and their younger players (Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi) must continue to progress. That said, with a little luck, they might find themselves somewhere near the mix yet again. With new coach Travis Green and a fresh beginning, perhaps there is one more Wild Card berth left in a team that has been prolonging their inevitable full-on rebuild.