Friday, June 30, 2017

A Guide to the Injury Prone 2017

This is definitely still one of my favourite posts of the off-season, going over the injury prone players, figuring out who to stay away from, trying my best to keep my chances for a healthy hockey pool team together.  There is no question that a lot of it remains to be luck and there is a good portion of luck needed from year after year, but I still think you can massage those numbers in your favour, if you have a good idea about who to step around.

Last season, my team finished in 2nd place in skater games played at 943 for 12 active players through 26 weeks.  Only Marcie's team was better than mine at 958 games and Wes came up in 25th with 817 games played.  You still need to have a pretty good scoring rate for your skaters, as neither Marcie or myself finished in the top three, although her team was much closer than mine, but as long as you have players playing, you at least have a chance.

What I am trying to accomplish, when I add players to this list, is trying to find those players who are missing 15 or more games during the season, over a few seasons consistently.  Some players have histories of concussions, which is always something to consider as well, as we've seen in a number of players, the history of concussions have been known to repeat over time.

When it comes to these identified players, I won't necessarily dismiss taking them altogether, but I will discount their point projections to a point at which they come up later on my list at the draft and then if they're showing up and still available, I would be more likely to consider them for my team.  Usually, however, someone else has already snapped them up, taking a bigger risk on them.  Undoubtedly, there are some times that it works in their favour too.

Four notations on the injury list in the 2017 season brought the injury prone spotlight to Dallas' Jason Spezza, who does have a pretty good track record of getting hurt.  Two lower-body injuries, a back injury and an upper-body injury were the highlights of his injury prone season, adding up to 14 games on the shelf, but only one trip to the Injured Reserve.  Nevertheless, Spezza still finished 125th in pool scoring with 15 goals and 50 points on the year, but looking at that Stars lineup, you would have to have thought that there was going to be a bunch more points out of the big guys, including Spezza, but injuries really hindered his season.  This has to be the thought process going forward, as the 34-year old isn't getting any younger.

How Thomas Vanek has alluded this list, thus far, is somewhat shocking.  If you were to cruise his transactions list, you'll notice that he gets hurt... a lot.  Okay, it's a game here and a game there, but 11 games to a hip injury in the 2017 season kind of sealed the deal in the end.  Vanek, now an unrestricted free agent, does have the veteran scoring savvy of a good hockey pool addition, but now the 33-year old is finding new and exciting ways to find the injury list and to me, that diminishes his fantasy or hockey pool value.  I would be a little more hesitant to pick him up for next season, unless I was looking for a bargain pick late.

It has been a rough three seasons for Winnipeg's Bryan Little, as three injuries have limited those years by a good number of games. In the 2015 season, it was an upper-body injury that caused him to miss 11 games, while the 2016 season, he missed the last 25 games, also to an upper-body injury and this past year, a lower-body injury forced him out of 23 games at the start of the year.  Little has been pool worthy each of those years, but if you're going in thinking that he is going to be better than last year, you may want to have a look at that trend.

Jonathan Ericsson was a borderline/fringe defenseman in the 2016 season, thanks to having 27 teams in the hockey pool, and that earn him some consideration during the 2017 season, albeit, not until the second Waiver Draft, but nevertheless.  Right after his selection though, injury!  A significant wrist injury, which needed surgery, ended his season shortly after his selection and that forced our hand to have a look at his list of games lost and they are pretty significant.  The shutdown defender does tend to miss some time here and there and that has really limited his offensive output, but he still remains as a decent option for the PIM pool, if that mini-game does come around again.  He's a late round draft pick, at best, anyways, but you may want to consider other healthier options.

It may be high time to consider the style of play that Brendan Gallagher is taking on, as he has now had back-to-back seasons with some significant time lost. Between a broken finger and a lower-body injury, they cost him 29 games in the 2016 season, while last season, he missed 18 games to an upper-body injury.  Gallagher just snuck into being pool worthy this season, only on ties, but he is a serviceable player, when he's healthy, so there's always going to be that attraction to taking him in the draft.  I would just be sure to take this advice into consideration before doing so.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had more than their fair share of injury problems in the 2017 season and for the third season in a row, forward Tyler Johnson was held from a healthy season, thanks to injury.  On three different occasions in the regular season, Johnson was held out of the lineup, due to injury, mostly dealing with lower-body issues in the new year.  Johnson also missed 13 games in the 2016 season and only 5 games in the 2015 season, but he's turning more and more into a playoff-only kind of player and he may not be the guy that you want to carry your hockey pool team in the regular season.  I'd buy low on him, until he really makes the move to improve his consistency in the lineup.

The Minnesota Wild poured a lot of cap space into Zach Parise since the summer of 2012, but it has been less than profitable for the team, as he hasn't quite been the guy to carry this team to the next level. The Wild have been good, but I don't think a proportional amount of the load has been on his shoulders. Inconsistency in his healthy could be a contributing factor, as he hasn't been the healthiest in the last four seasons, having missed 13 games in the 2017 season, in the most recent history, missing time to illness three times this past season.  Parise used to be a top end pool contributor, but I'm just not seeing it much anymore.

The stock prices are dropping on Rick Nash, as are his production numbers. Missing 15 games in 2017 and 22 games in the 2016 season, Nash's reliability is also really coming into question and it stretches even further than that. The New York Rangers, unless they can get a deal done, only have one more year on his current deal to worry about, but one would have to think that it is on their minds to move him, if possible, in the next calendar year.  Nash hit the shelf four times in the 2017 season, dealing with a groin problem twice, an upper-body injury and one injury that wasn't disclosed.  The former 1st overall pick in 2002 has fallen quite a ways from where he once was and his recent hockey pool draft positions can reflect that.

There has always been a lot of potential upside to defenseman Jonas Brodin, but in the last couple of years, his seasons have been derailed by a couple of broken bones. A broken foot in 2016 cost him 12 games, while a broken finger this past season cost him 14 games and that all could be because he has bought into the North American game, where blocking shots is key to a team's success. Well, that's likely the case for an NHL club, but for a hockey pool team, blocking shots isn't going to do us a whole lot of good, especially when he isn't doing it very well.  Brodin is pool worthy, but he may be better suited to be a bargain pick than a sure thing.

The Anaheim Ducks will be starting the season without defenseman Sami Vatanen, but this isn't anything new from the Orange County club, as Vatanen has missed games on a regular basis in his young career.  Vatanen underwent off-season shoulder surgery, which will certainly limit his 2018 season, possibly to the point where he shouldn't be taken at the initial draft this coming fall, but his record of injuries should be enough to suggest that you may want to avoid him, as much as possible, unless you're really looking to take a gamble.  If he could string together a healthy season, which isn't going to be the case until 2019, at least, he is a definite hockey pool contributor.

You can't do these lists without being prepared to eat a little bit of humble pie and there are some players who can bounce back from their placement on the Injury Prone List and come back with solid years. This year, I'll start with these players in my review of past seasons and first off, one player hit the 82-game mark in the 2017 season and that was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  I am prepared to argue that having a guy like Connor McDavid will lessen the checking load on your number two centre and that could be the case here, but he's still going to remain on the list.

Nine more players missed less than five games in the 2017 season, making them pretty good picks and possibly some bargain picks in the year.  This pool worthy portion of this list includes Mikael Backlund of the Flames, Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens, Mark Giordano of the Flames, Jason Demers of the Panthers, Nick Bonino in Pittsburgh, Jeff Skinner of the Hurricanes and Tyler Bozak of the Maple Leafs.  Both Kevin Bieksa of the Ducks and Lars Eller of the Capitals failed to make the pool worthy portion of the list, but they both still were healthy for the better part of the year.

Sergei Bobrovsky of the Blue Jackets still had a pretty good season in 2017, but he wasn't immune to a couple of games off, due to illness.  Bobrovsky was the top ranked player in pool scoring on the list, finishing 4th overall in points, thanks to 63 appearances.

Both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won the Cup this year, but they were both added to the list in 2013 and for good reason.  Crosby missed seven games this year, which isn't too bad, but Malkin missed 20 games, but he still finished 25th in scoring among forwards.

The Ottawa Senators were most kind in letting Craig Anderson take time off to be with family during a tough time, which normally wouldn't count for his own injury concerns, but he is still on the list.  It sounds like the family situation is still positive, but he's still an injury risk of his own.

Steve Mason made 58 appearances for the Flyers, which is a pretty good number, but his number was a lower than some, due to the split with Michal Neuvirth.  The unrestricted free agent may need to convince his new team that he can play a full season as a number one to get paid again.

The New Jersey Devils got a good season out of Taylor Hall, as he only missed 10 games in the 2017 season, his first with his new club.  Hall ranked 75th among forwards in scoring, but that is a combination between his time off and the scoring woes of the Devils, as a whole.

Hopes are still really high that Aleksander Barkov can come around and be that elite player for the Florida Panthers, but back problems really limited his season and he missed 21 games in total.  The Panthers are going to need him to be consistently healthy, before they can really start talking about making that big playoff run.

In St. Louis, Alexander Steen was a little more reliable, playing 76 games on the season, but he still wasn't quite as productive as we've seen in years past.  Steen only missed time to an upper-body injury, fairly early in the season, which doesn't quite explain the slight dip in his numbers, still finishing with 16 goals and 51 points in the season.  I'll always hesitate when considering Steen for my hockey pool team.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen hasn't missed any time due to injury since the 2016 season, but his biggest hurdle in those last couple of years has been a platoon system, which may have worked to his advantage, where he hasn't been the number one guy getting worn down, night after night.  By all indications already this summer, things won't be getting any better, as he's now the back-up to Ben Bishop in Dallas.

In Buffalo, Kyle Okposo should be ready for training camp following a harsh infection, which had him in intensive care at the end of the season, but it was another season in 2017, where he missed significant time, 17 games, to be exact.  He remains fairly unlucky, as a player, and I would continue to look past him at the draft, when you come around his scoring numbers.

Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault suffered a pair of upper-body injuries in the 2017 season, also missing a total of 17 games, continuing his trend of being unable to play a full 82-game season in the league.  If you're looking for a reliable player for a full season, look elsewhere.

Back to Buffalo.  Evander Kane has only participated in one full NHL season and it was the shortened year of 48 games in 2013, so he has yet to play an 82-game season in his career.  In 2017, he missed a total of 12 games, 11 games to cracked ribs and another to illness.  He was still able to pot 28 goals, but with his scoring ability, prepare your team for a few games on the shelf.

There have been rumours circulating that Mike Fisher's career may be coming to an end after that great run in Nashville, but we've yet to hear one way or the other on the 37-year old's status for the 2018 season.  The unrestricted free agent will likely weigh his options, but a team has to know that he's on this list.  Fisher missed a combined 10 games to four different ailments in the 2017 season and he also missed the last couple games of the playoffs, as his playing style has led him to injury on more than one occasion.

The Vegas Golden Knights are not immune to the list, as they selected one player in the expansion draft on the list, forward James Neal.  Neal was on the Injured Reserve twice in the 2017 season and sat out a few more games later on in the year, missing a combined 10 games.  Neal has, unlike a lot of players on this list, played a full season once and it wasn't long ago either, but he's still a risky player to take, as he does play a physical brand of hockey as well.

A hip injury kept speedy Rangers forward Michael Grabner on the shelf for a handful of games, adding to this list of injuries in his career, but he was still fairly consistent enough on the scoresheet to remain pool worthy.  He's certainly the type of player I would want on my team, but on my fantasy team, he doesn't score enough to overlook his checkered injury past.

The only break that Paul Stastny seems to catch is one to his bones, as he continues to suffer from being injury prone.  In the 2017 season, the St. Louis Blues forward missed 16 regular season games, which included the last 10 games of the regular season to a lower-body injury.  He should be a much better option for your hockey pool team than he has been, as he only ranked 194th in scoring among forwards and carries a $7 million cap hit.

A string of injuries and illnesses kept Martin Hanzal from staying consistent in the scoring column between Arizona and Minnesota and now the unrestricted free agent is now on the market as an injury prone player.  The hulking forward has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, not having played an 80+ game season since the 2010 season and his point totals in the 2017 season may have a lot of people overlook him at the hockey pool draft, no matter where he lands.

And now to the defensemen part of the post, as Mike Green was the top blueliner among the injury prone and he still missed 10 games and finished 38th in the position in scoring with the Red Wings.  A lower-body injury over the holidays cost the offensive defenseman eight games, while an illness cost him the other two games later on in the year.  Green just has a knack for taking some time off, so he continues to be a risk with a pretty good reward, if you're willing.

Andrei Markov is hunting for a new deal and he wants to get paid, but one of the first adds to the injury prone list still missed 20 games in the 2017 season.  A lower-body injury cost him 19 games and missed almost all of January, but his production was still okay, picking up 6 goals and 36 points to be 41st among all defenders.  However, that's not 2 years, $12 million worth of production.

Everyone's favourite injury prone defenseman didn't disappoint in the 2017 season, unless you picked him really high in the draft... then you were definitely disappointed (and dumb for doing so).  The sky-high risk and fairly high reward defender, Kristopher Letang, only played in half the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins and none of their playoff run, yet he still finished 48th in defensemen scoring.  He is by far the biggest gamble of the bunch, but it could really pay off, if he could find a streak of luck in there somewhere.

Finally, we've got Cody Franson, who has missed some significant time in the past, he continued to miss time here and there with the Sabres in 2017, a total of 13 games, due to a trio of injuries.  He is now about to sit in unrestricted free agency and teams have to wonder about his durability.  He was still 88th among defensemen in scoring last season, so will that enough to earn him a job somewhere?

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