Thursday, August 08, 2013

A Guide to the Injury Prone for 2013

I cannot emphasize the importance of knowing the injury prone players when going into your fantasy pool drafts or even picking players out of boxes on a sheet pool. I don't think there is any better tool out there to help win your hockey pool than having a list like this. Even the best players in the league are not safe from this list and if you can at least weigh the risk of picking these players before you do so, then I think you're one step ahead of your competition.

Sure, I would like to take Sidney Crosby 1st overall in my draft, but is he worth the risk with his history of concussions and other assorted ailments? Not when there is a Steven Stamkos to be taken.

Feeling safe with your players has a better ring to it then telling your friends, "well, if so-and-so can stay healthy, I think I have a shot at winning this year." Risk and reward.

Of course, even living by this list isn't the know-all or end-all to any season, as my draft team last year could argue. I thought Cam Ward was a safe pick in the 2nd round, but his injury cut his season down early.

Also, I have taken many-a-risk from this list, hoping for good results, only to be bitten in the rear end by what I knew to already be true.  I took a shot on Jeff Skinner, yes, another Hurricanes player, in hopes that he was past his injury-plagued campaigns, but no.  Although Skinner wasn't out for very long, his injury did cost me in the end.

Now, I haven't done this list in a couple of years, the last being in 2011, so I might have to make a few extra additions to it, while I'm here.  I will also go through the previous lists, as I have in previous years, just to touch on some lingering thoughts.

Remarkably, neither Sidney Crosby, nor Evgeni Malkin, have ended up on this list yet, but I'm sad to say they have now.  Starting with Crosby, only playing 22 games in the 2012 season and missing another 12 games in the 2013 season, between concussions and a broken jaw, it is really starting to get worrisome for the league's golden boy and his value to poolies everywhere.  Even though Crosby missed 22 games last season, he still finished 5th in scoring, but if you're relying on him to win you your pool, you want him to play a full season and count as many points as possible for you.  If you're picking in a snake order in your draft and you take Crosby 1st overall, you better be damn sure that he is going to get you those points, because it could be a long time (and a lot of good players) in between your picks.

That goes just as much for Malkin, who won a hockey pool MVP title in 2012, when he took the scoring race.  Malkin may not have lost quite as many games as Crosby has over the last couple seasons, 7 in 2012 and 17 in 2013, but teams are gunning for the talented Russian and the knocks that he has been taking are a sign that it likely won't stop any time soon.  Malkin has the potential for a lot of points, but I think he comes with a fair amount of risk.  I don't think I would take him 1st overall either.

I don't really want to pick on the Pittsburgh Penguins, but ever since their Cup runs, they haven't quite been the same, health-wise.  Another example of this is defenseman Kristopher Letang.  When looking at the last couple of seasons for Letang, 31 games missed in 2012 and another 13 games missed in 2013, I begin to wonder about what he is going to bring to the table for me in 2014, if I was to pick him.  If I was to look at their roster right now, I would be pretty excited to see Crosby, Malkin and Letang healthy, but the question lingers... for how long will this last?  Letang saw above a point-per-game numbers in 2013 and was on pace to win a Norris Trophy, but his injury cut him short and it just wasn't to be.  Even a shade over a point per game, how much risk are you going to assume in taking him?

As mentioned in my opening paragraphs, I think there is a real risk in taking Jeff Skinner of the Hurricanes.  Skinner burst onto the scene in the 2011 season, with all kinds of raw talent, something that wasn't expected out of the small-ish forward, but when the 2012 season was upon us, teams started to do their homework on him and found ways to get a body on him.  Sure enough, he missed 18 games in the 2012 season, mostly due to a concussion and then missed 6 more games to a concussion in the 2013 season.  These are not big numbers for games lost, but in back-to-back seasons, a trend is starting to form and these kinds of trends are dangerous, even if they are small.  I'm a Skinner fan, but if he continues to have these sorts of layoffs, it is sad to say, but he could be in for a short run.  I would discount his value by about 15-to-20%, when doing up my numbers for him.  Take him in a safe position, if you're going to take him at all.

It has been a rough few seasons for Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa Bay, not having played a full season since the 2009 campaign.  I think one of the more common lines when talking about Lecavalier is, "he isn't the player that he once was."  You may be able to attribute the rise of Steven Stamkos or the domination of Martin St. Louis in Tampa to Lecavalier's production, but there is a certain streak of injuries over the last three seasons, which was likely going to exacerbate the situation for a guy that could already too deep into his own head.  Lecavalier finished 97th overall in pool scoring and was likely in need of a change of scenery, so the buyout was completed, free agency didn't last too long and Philadelphia was his eventual destination.  First things first... can he stay healthy in Philly, where stars seem to be hurt all the time?

Well, if Mike Green could ever get himself out of the infirmary, he certainly still has the talent to be one of the NHL's top scoring defensemen. Sadly, he had missed 50 games in 2012 and another 13 games in 2013 and now you don't know what to do with him.  Lower-body injuries, a la the groin area, have been his biggest issue over the past few years, which couldn't be too surprising, given how mobile he is and how much he relies on his movement on the ice, so if you're a poolie hoping to cash in on Green for the 2014 season, I would be looking for stories on how he has improved his off-season training to be better suited for his game.  If you haven't heard anything like this, I would keep his projections tempered going into your draft and let someone else worry about the risk.

I think there is a real argument for making sure that players, even future superstars, are brought into the NHL when they are physically mature and I think the best case and point is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers. There is no doubt in my mind that he is a talented kid that could do just about anything he really wanted with the puck, but being brought into the NHL as a slender 18-year old in the 2012 season hasn't likely helped him, nor has the season-ending corrective shoulder surgery he had in this off-season.  This is a real concern for me as a poolie and it would be even more of a concern, if I was an Oilers fan, because this is a kid who has a tremendous upside and he may have been brought along a wee bit prematurely.  Nevertheless, from a poolie standpoint, he needs to put together some full seasons to quietly slip away from this tag.

The dreaded concussion, a word that makes me cringe as a poolie. Habs forward Lars Eller picked one up in the playoffs and now has his name marked on this list. I think there should be a few more players associated with this tag, but I'm only finding a few names here and there.  Eller had a pretty good year in 2013, picking up 30 points in 46 games, but I think his market value takes a small hit, thanks to his first concussion.

Speaking of Canadiens players that likely should be on this list, and now is on this list, would be Max Pacioretty.  Ever since Zdeno Chara gave him a run through the turnbuckle, Pacioretty has not been exceptionally durable.  Starting with the concussion and neck problems that he suffered from Chara, he has also started to miss games from other ailments, including some shoulder problems in last year's playoffs.  Pacioretty is a good scoring forward, ranking in the top 60 in both 2012 & 2013 in pool scoring, but he comes with his fair share of risk.

The Phoenix Coyotes have never really been a terribly popular team to pick from for the hockey pools, but one of the few that pops up every year is Martin Hanzal, but his games played over the last few seasons makes him a worthy candidate for the injury prone list.  Upper-body injuries, last season, kept Hanzal to only 39 of 48 games, while 2012 saw him play only 64 games and 2011 was 61 games.  He tends to finish around the bottom of most pool-worthy players and he does carry some offensive upside, which always seems to draw the curiosity of many to his services.  If you get down to a point in the draft where his name comes up, double-check and see who else is available.  You may not want to go with him this year.

A knee injury was the cause for Mikael Backlund to miss eight games in the 2013 season, a season where he also spent some time as a healthy scratch, missing 16 games in total.  Backlund had also suffered a cracked bone in his foot, to which he managed to play through near the end of the regular season, but this kid just can't seem to get away from missing games, despite how much optimism and expectation is attached to him at the beginning of the last few seasons.  Backlund has produced some reasonable scoring rates in his short NHL career, but missing half the season in 2012 and another 8 games in 2011 doesn't bode well for his projections this year.

Pool-worthy players who were previous additions to the list (year added), sorted by 2013 scoring:

Alex Semin (2010) - Semin was added to the list, not because he misses a lot of games, he just tends to end up missing a couple games here and a few games there every season.  Even in his new stomping grounds of Carolina, he still ended up missing 4 games out of 48.  2012 in Washington, he missed 5 games and in 2011, he missed 17 games.  Semin isn't a guy that plays 82 games in a regular season, but I wouldn't necessarily discount his output too much, just a little.  Something to keep in mind.

Tomas Fleischmann (2011) - Thanks to a blood clot in his leg in the 2011 season, Fleischmann ran into what seemed to be the end of some serious injury troubles.  Since that injury, he has not missed a game and now playing in Florida, your biggest concern with him is how the rest of the team is going to supplement his scoring.  A couple of full seasons under his belt, I think it might be safe to give him 100% projection numbers for the 2014 season.  Since he has been on the list, if he is up against someone else, who hasn't been on the list, in the appropriate draft position, I would likely side with the healthy player.

Kari Lehtonen (2008) - Since moving to Dallas, Lehtonen has been reasonably solid, keeping himself in good shape and getting his games in.  The coaching staff have also been good to keep an eye on his workload, making sure he isn't pushing too hard.  Last season, Lehtonen appeared in 36 of 48 games for the Stars, which was a reasonable level and I think he had a bit more rest when the Stars were out of the conversation.  I'll never be in too much of a rush to pick Lehtonen, but he is on steadier footing now, for sure.

Johan Franzen (2010) - When Tomas Holmstrom left the Red Wings, Franzen was thought to take over the role as the pest in front of the net, but that job came with too much risk of injury.  Nowadays, you don't see Franzen giving the goalies as much of a hard time, trying to save himself from too much harm and play more games.  Still, Franzen missed 7 games in 2013 and 5 in 2012 and 6 in 2011.  Those are not big numbers, but it is something to keep an eye on.

Andrei Markov (2010) - Would you believe that Markov played a full season in 2013?  I know it was just 48 games, but he played each one.  A great leap forward from playing a combined 20 games between 2011 & 2012, no doubt.  Markov finished 114th in pool scoring last year, which is a great number for a defenseman, but how likely are you to take the risk that is Markov?  I would keep somewhat of a discounted number associated with his name, just because.  I don't want him biting my fantasy team in the ass.

Ray Whitney (2008) - I find it remarkable that Whitney is still going, but at age 41, he is entering another season with the Dallas Stars and I think what I've been saying over the past few years still rings true.  You should apply a 5-game discounted projection to his name for the draft, just to be on the safe side.  He still suffers his knocks, 16 games missed in 2013 is a good example.  His size and age may warrant 10 games now, but he is certainly a smart enough player to keep himself out of trouble.

Marian Gaborik (2009) - It finally looks like Gaborik has turned a corner in the number of games that he plays in a season, which is great for him and less of a risk for poolies, but you look at his name and still wonder how long it will last.  He has had concussion problems in the past and a number of other body issues, but on the plus side, he played 82 games in 2012 and 47 games between the Rangers and Blue Jackets in 2013.  I would apply a small discount to his projections, just in case, just to feel more comfortable if he ends up on your team, you didn't pick him too high.

Sergei Gonchar (2011) - The 39-year old Russian rearguard had a pretty healthy 2013, by his own standards, only missing 3 games and he picked up some slack for an injured teammate (Erik Karlsson), with some good scoring numbers, but now with a move to Dallas, where there are already two other names on this list in the Lone Star State, I'm beginning to wonder if they'll keep each other safe.  Gonchar misses games, almost to a certainty, so I would discount him by upwards of 20 games, especially in an  82-game season.  If you get him late, he becomes a pretty good bargain.

David Legwand (2008) - The last time we checked in on Legwand, he had missed 16 games to lower-body injuries in the 2011 season.  His 2012 season was better, only missing 4 games and then in 2013, he played a full 48-game schedule, only his second full season of his career.  Has he also turned a corner in his career?  It is definitely likely, but it isn't like the risk isn't there still.  With only two full seasons played in his career, I think it isn't safe to say he's durable player, rather keep discounting his points and if he plays a full season, consider it a bonus.

Paul Stastny (2009) - Stastny is another one of those cases that just cannot seem to play a full season.  He is all kinds of talented, but when it comes down to it, there are a few injuries every year that seem to diminish his numbers.  In 2013, he finished with 24 points in 40 games, which isn't bad, but a full season tends to have some consistency and should help one's game.  A foot injury was the reason why he hit the injured reserve last season.  To date, Stastny has only had one 82-game season, which was his rookie year.

Ales Hemsky (2008) - One of the big reasons why I started this list was to stay away from Hemsky, who continues to miss time here and there with various knocks and injuries.  Hemsky missed 10 games in 2013 and 13 games in 2012 and now he faces time in Edmonton down on the 3rd line, thanks to the influx of young talent.  Hemsky is a fantasy team killer, in my opinion and even if he gets moved out of Edmonton via a trade, I don't think his value really gets any better.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010) - The New York Islanders are going to take a chance on Bouchard, who doesn't have a great track record of staying healthy through the years.  Bouchard signed a 1-year deal for $2 million, which could be a huge bargain, if he plays 70+ games in a year, but he hasn't done that since 2009.  He scores at a rate of half a point-per-game, which is okay, but you know that he can be better when healthy.  When does that happen though?  I would stay away from him as much as possible this year.

Joffrey Lupul (2010) - On this list, Lupul ranked 2nd to Crosby in terms of points-per-game in 2013, but unlike Crosby, Lupul only played in 16 games.  I don't think there is much question that his chemistry in Toronto is off-the-charts, but when you can't get up for many games each season, the questions remain about his durability.  For poolies, this should be a red flag, telling you to stay away, unless you're going to get him in a bargain position.  In the last four seasons, his best total for games played is 66 and that should be the best you should expect out of him these days.  Let someone else take the risk on Lupul.

Martin Havlat (2010) - I think it's safe to say that the Sharks have not been getting their money's worth out of Havlat, since the deal that sent Dany Heatley to Minnesota.  It shames me to think that San Jose did well in this deal, but to be fair, that was assuming that Havlat was going to play everyday.  That has since not happened.  Havlat only missed 8 games in 2013, but his scoring wasn't great and he missed more than half of 2012, so that becomes a wash.  Havlat should still be a top six player in San Jose, but what kind of pick is he really worth?

Sheldon Souray (2010) - An absolute bomb from the point, but at a cost of missing games each year.  Souray switched locales for the 2013 season, heading to Anaheim to help mentor the likes of Cam Fowler and that mentorship only saw Souray miss 4 games.  That's not bad, especially considering Fowler missed 7 games.  I would still keep Souray's record of missing games in mind when preparing your projections.

Sami Salo (2010) - How many full seasons has Salo played in his 14-year career?  The answer is zero.  He almost made the full season in Tampa Bay last year, except for two games in February/March, which likely blew everyone away.  Salo does have the potential, even at 38 years old, to be a pool worthy defenseman, but he shouldn't be anyone you make a push for.  He's more the guy that you'd round out your roster with and you'd be thankful when he has a good season.

Daniel Briere (2009) - Briere is a lot like the Little Engine That Could, but with every happy ending, there is always some kind of conflict in the schedule, mostly small injuries.  Now that Briere is now in Montreal, I wonder how his body will react, as teams like to hit the smaller guys that play for the Canadiens and they get hit a lot when there is a target on their backs.  Briere is another one of those talented players that just gets hurt on more occasions than I'm sure he would like, so I would keep my distance to a reasonable bargain pick or completely away.

Erik Cole (2008) - In the last three seasons, Cole has now only missed one game, which is a great way to get your name removed from this list or at the very least, limit the paragraph about you.  Things are looking up for Cole, except for his scoring.  You may be free to fully forecast Cole, but do so at your own peril.

Kevin Bieksa (2011) - The rough and tumble game has not done Bieksa any favours over the last few seasons, as the Canucks can't seem to get a full season out of one of their best defenders and it has really hurt his pool value.  Bieksa missed 12 games last year and failed to get any solid footing in the scoresheets, only picking up 12 points in those 36 games, which is well below his expectations.  First things first, try and get an idea of how he's doing in training camp, but really, for the number of games he's missed lately, I would discount his value appropriately.

Eric Brewer (2009) - Brewer was already on the hot seat for his lack of production a couple of years ago, but a couple of years of healthy hockey and he's starting to find his way back into the conversation of being picked again.  I would feel a bit better if he had a third season, much like Cole (see above) has now, before I went gaga over him, but he is going the right way to being a solid late round pick to fill out the roster.

Stephen Weiss (2008) - Weiss is another one of those players that a team is going to take a chance on for the 2014 season (and beyond), as the Detroit Red Wings signed him to a pretty sweet deal over the Summer and Weiss has a fairly checkered past, in terms of injuries.  In the shortened 2013 season, Weiss was limited to 17 games for the Florida Panthers and that was about enough for his original and only club to this point in his career.  Weiss was let go via unrestricted free agency and the Red Wings came a calling.  He does have plenty of talent and could be a good fit, but I would give it a year (or two) before I get too excited from a fantasy perspective.

Todd Bertuzzi (2008) - The Red Wings have another player on the injury prone list and Bertuzzi didn't exactly give them great returns in the regular season last year either, only playing 7 games and registering 3 points in that time.  Bertuzzi wasn't doing bad in Detroit leading up to this past year, only missing 11 games over the first three seasons he was there, but the 7 games in 2013 put him firmly back on the injury prone list.   With the addition of Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, there would be little to suggest that Bertuzzi will feature much in the top six, unless other injuries mount in the Motor City.

David Booth (2010) - Booth is now coming off season-ending surgery to his ankle, which may have been under-reported at the time, suggesting muscle tears and ligament problems were the real cause of the surgery, so it will be an interesting training camp to see how he bounces back.  Booth was acquired by the Canucks in 2011 and hasn't exactly been the explosive offensive force that they were initially hoping for.  Injuries in the 2013 season will likely hinder his offensive upside and he may be better off as a late round sleeper pick, if anything.  I would likely discount his production numbers, hoping to get him at a bargain position.

Players on the injury prone list, not pool-worthy: Ed Jovanovski, Mike Komisarek, Steve Sullivan, Simon Gagne, Filip Kuba, Kurtis Foster, Radek Martinek, Tom Poti, Rick DiPietro, Tim Connolly, Kristian Huselius and Marco Sturm.

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