Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Guide to the Injury Prone 2018

Well, the 2018 season was a wee bit strange in the hockey pool, when it comes to my beloved Injury Prone List, as I stuck to it pretty well, as I normally do, but this year saw a team with five entries to this list win the whole thing. All the stars aligned for Stuart, not only in the health category, but also his fortune in the players that he actually picked. Somehow, he managed to get Evgeni Malkin, Taylor Hall, Sidney Crosby, Bryan Little and Jason Spezza in the year and he went home with the year's big prize. Unbelievable.

With five players on the Injury Prone List, Stuart was still able to rank 3rd in skater games played in the pool, finishing with 946, while I stuck to my list and finished 2nd, with 951 games played.  My team finished 5th in the standings, 95 points short of Stuart's.

There's no exact science to the hockey pool, there is as much hope and luck in it, as there is a skill to picking the right players.  You can do all the reading, all the scouting before the draft, but there are so many variables, which play out through the season, that you really can't count on.  Injuries are one of those, even if you make a list of players to avoid.  They may have been less likely to get hurt, but it's not impossible.

I'm sure that a few people were shying away from the Penguins and from Hall, starting year two with the Devils, there's no question that they are highly-skilled players, but they do come with some risk.  It was just Stuart's year to take a chance on them and hope for the best.

I started this list back in 2008 and since then, I have added 84 players to it, 51 of which, were still active in the 2018 season.  Out of those 51 players, 33 of them were still deemed to be pool worthy, meaning either the top 200 forwards, top 100 defensemen or top 50 goalies.  Of those 33 pool worthy players, five of them were in the top 100 overall in scoring, including the top three on Stuart's list and Aleksander Barkov of the Panthers and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Blue Jackets.  They were certainly worth the risk in 2018.

This list is just a tool, which does seem to help me keep a relatively healthy hockey pool team, year after year, but it's also not so much of a risk-taking team, which was the one that won the money this year.  Sometimes, those risks can pay off and it will get you your name on the trophy at the end of the year.  So, with that being said, time to pick out the new names for the 2018 list... I would like to get 10 more names on it, but we'll see how it pans out.

It's funny, it feels like every season, I add a name to the list, who probably should have been on here ages ago and that's no different this year, adding Bobby Ryan of the Senators.  This guy has had more finger/hand injuries than most people can count on their fingers and the 2018 season was a good example of that, coming out of the lineup four times in the season for one of these injuries and limiting his season to only 62 games.  He was still pool worthy in the year, finishing with 33 points, but his injury prone nature isn't exactly making him a fan favourite and his $7.5 million cap hit for the next four seasons is one the team is trying to rid themselves of, if you believe the stories out there.

I think I've considered Nick Foligno of the Blue Jackets in seasons previous, but could never really pull the trigger on adding his name to the list. Two more lower-body injuries, costing him 10 more games in the 2018 season, has me counting up his totals over the last few seasons and I can see a bit of a pattern. This guy does get hurt and maybe he doesn't miss a ton of games, but his scoring numbers are so up and down, that it has to take a toll on his consistency through the season and to me, that's what makes him worth avoiding at the hockey pool draft.  He's another guy who carries a heavy cap hit, $5.5 million over the next three seasons, which looks like a tough pill to swallow.

The last three seasons for Chicago's Artem Anisimov haven't been great and that's going to land him on this list as well. An upper-body injury cost him 10 games in the 2018 season, four separate lower-body injuries cost him 17 games in the 2017 season and he missed five games in the 2016 season.  He's a gritty player, that will grind and muck it out and he does have some good offensive upside, especially on a talented team like the Blackhawks, but I'm just not confident that if he was on my side, that I could count on him for games played and points.

New York Rangers forward Jesper Fast joins the list after a rough season for the lower-body in 2018. A hip injury cost him five games, a quadriceps injury cost him another three games and then he missed the last three games of the year with a groin injury. The year before that, he missed 14 games to three different injuries and that's all adding up to a guy that just can't stay healthy.  Fast is a guy that has some really good offensive upside to his game, 33 points in 71 games isn't too bad, but the Rangers could have used a little bit more consistency in his game, possibly something that the injury bug zapped out of him.

For where Patric Hornqvist plays the better part of his ice-time, I'm a tad surprised that he isn't hurt more often, but he does seem to get hurt fairly often.  This season, he missed 12 games with three separate injuries and even missed some more time in the playoffs too.  Hornqvist is a battler, who finds himself in front of the net and is often rewarded with points for his hard work and dedication to his craft, but he does seem to be one of those guys that could possibly bite you in the rear end, if you take him too high in the draft.  He's a good player, who plays on a top line in the NHL, but there's a risk to his game, which could make or break your hockey pool season.

Here's another guy that possibly should have been on the list a while ago, but never surfaced to the top of the pile. Alexander Edler of the Canucks continues to miss a handful (or more) games in a season, failing to play more than 74 games in his last five years. A sprained knee at the start of the 2018 campaign cost him 12 games and he wasn't quite the same player as we'd normally come to expect.  A fractured finger in 2017 and a broken leg in 2016, yeah... he's a guy that probably should have been on this list a while ago.

Back-to-back seasons with ankle injuries, costing significant amounts of time. As a guy that has had plenty of ankle problems himself, those are things that are tough to get away from and it has already really hampered the talent of Buffalo's Jack Eichel and it's a real red flag for me, when it comes to the hockey pool. Sure, I think this kid has all the talent in the world and if he can stay healthy nowadays, he could contend for a scoring title. It's just a huge but that lingers over top of him, especially after long stints on the Injured Reserve with ankle injuries.   He's probably the best example of high risk-high reward.

After looking at the list of injuries that Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson has suffered in recent years, this is another guy that probably should have made the list a while ago.  13 games to an upper-body injury in 2018, 36 games to a leg injury in 2017, 9 games to a lower-body injury in 2016 and 34 games to a leg injury in 2015... it's really hard to take a guy that not only gets hurt, but can find some long stints on the IR as well.  Johnson remains a productive player, 25 points last season, but you would think that he could get a touch more, if he'd just stay healthy for an entire season.

Another really talented player, hampered mightily by injury is Tampa Bay's Ondrej Palat, who can't seem to catch many breaks in his NHL career. Over the last four seasons, he's topped out at 75 games in a couple of years, combining a number of minor knocks and missing out on 26 games to a lower-body injury in the 2018 season, really highlighting his inclusion on this list.  A few games here, a handful there, 12 games to a lower-body injury in the 2016 season, he's a bit of a liability for your hockey pool team, no matter what his scoring rate is.

Goalies are sometimes hard to add to this list, except when they're Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche.  Goalie totals of games played can somewhat hide these guys among the greater list, but it is important that some of them get weeded out, just so you know what the risks are about taking the injury prone ones.  Groin and knee injuries in 2018 cost him some significant time, hip surgery in 2017 cost him half the regular season and other groin problems in 2016 were an issue as well.  Varlamov can be a very productive player, when he's in the Colorado crease, but he has been known to disappear to the IR from time-to-time.

11 players on my Injury Prone List were able to play in all 82 games last season, while another four players played in 81 games and three more played in 80 games.  Like I said before, this system isn't at all perfect, but you do have to assess the risk of guys like Mikael Backlund of the Flames, who earned his status a few years ago, but has really shown some durability over the last three seasons, only missing one game in that time.

Usually, I'd run down the whole list of players still active and playing, but that usually takes an unbelievable amount of time.  I do think that this list should play a part in free agency, when you're hoping that your favourite NHL club is doing their shopping.  Mike Green, Kari Lehtonen, Thomas Vanek, Paul Stastny, Tyler Bozak, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash, Kevin Bieksa, Mike Cammalleri, Scottie Upshall, Matt Hendricks and David Booth, among the unrestricted free agents this summer, looking for a new place to play.  How many will sign?  How many will continue playing overall?

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