Injuries plague teams every year and are often hard to predict or prepare for. Yet every season, several key players find their seasons ruined due to an injury. While the league didn’t really lose a superstar player like the Tampa Bay Lightning did in 2016-17 when Steven Stamkos went down with a torn lateral meniscus in his knee and appeared in just 17 games. However, there quite a few players who went down for a chunk of time that definitely diminished their seasons. However, assuming everyone is back healthy, who will come back and have the best season next year?
Among those that missed the most time include Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings, who missed 55 games with a leg injury. The 33-year-old posted a solid 13 goals and 22 points in 27 games when he returned and should be poised to put up big numbers next season, centering the second line likely alongside Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. The question is when will Father Time catch up with him. Speaking of Father Time, San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton missed quite a bit of time in the second half of the season when he suffered a knee injury that knocked him out for 35 games. The 39-year-old posted 13 goals and 36 points last season in just 47 games and could put up more impressive numbers if he can get in a full season.
Several players suffered through injuries, but also saw their numbers decline due to the lack of success of their franchises, including the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider. The 27-year-old was looked to a year ago to lead the team in scoring after he posted a 28-goal season in 2016-17, and had 11 goals before being diagnosed with a blood clot, requiring surgery. He came back to add another five, but was far from the star forward the struggling Rangers needed. Montreal Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty also struggled last year, posting just 17 goals in the first 64 games before going down for the season with a knee injury. That production was a far cry from the four straight 30+ goal seasons he has put together before that. Can he bounce back to form whether that’s with Montreal or another team?
The Rangers also were without their star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk for 36 games with a knee injury. The team signed to a four-year, $26.6MM deal last offseason and was looked upon to quarterback the Rangers’ offense. However, the 29-year-old managed just five goals and 18 assists in 46 games. Defenseman Justin Schultz also didn’t produce the big season that the Pittsburgh Penguins were hoping for as the 28-year-old blueliner missed 19 games with a lower-body injury. He went from a 12-goal and 51-point season in 2016-17 season to just four goals and 27 points this past year.
Goaltending also has quite a few options on players hoping to bounce back and while the Chicago Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford might be an obvious candidate, the veteran goalie did post excellent numbers (2.28 GAA, .929 save percentage) before he went down with what is believed to be a concussion. However, Montreal’s Carey Price was struggling quite a bit when he went down with a concussion. Price, who had just signed an eight-year, $88MM extension last summer, did get into 49 games, but finished with a poor 3.11 GAA and a disappointing .900 save percentage. Price has bounced back before from a down season, so there is hope the superstar goaltender can bounce back. Finally Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov struggled with injuries the past two seasons, needing two hip surgeries a year ago and then had knee issues this year. In 51 games, Varlamov finished with a 2.68 GAA, but also now has to share duties with newly acquired Philipp Grubauer if he wants to bounce back, especially since he will be an unrestricted free agent in a year.
So which player will be able to rebound from injury and return themselves to an elite player?
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