Two weeks ago Jacques Martin said he couldn’t remember a time in his two plus years as head coach of the Canadiens that he an injury-free roster. Yesterday Jaroslav Spacek said he thought there that there might be 10 of the 175 games since he arrived on the scene where the team had a full deck of players.
One way or the other, Canadiens injuries have been epidemic for. not two, but the last three seasons.
Last night in Phoenix the current list included Cammalleri, Kostitsyn, Gomez, White, Markov and Campoli. Already the Canadiens have had a total of eight players miss a total of 55 man-games, an average of 3.7 regular roster players and we’re fifteen games into the season. Unless their fortunes take a drastic right turn, the Canadiens are headed for 300 man-games.
Tomorrow night in Nashville, we should be able to strike Scott Gomez from among the missing. This morning he practiced as a winger on a fourth line with Petteri Nokelainen and Aaron Palushaj. He’ll start the Nashville game as a winger in order to limit risk of aggravating his shoulder injury. Andrei Kostitsyn’s aching groin caused him to leave the ice after ten minutes so we can count him out and Michael Cammalleri didn’t take a spot on a line, he will be a gametime decision tomorrow night. (Peter Budaj will get his second start in goal)
The relationship between winning and the injury list is clear and well defined. In the 2007-08 season the Canadiens’ won the Eastern Conference regular season title and ranked third in the league behind Detroit and San Jose with 104 points . Eleven players accounted for 141 man games lost to injury, 56 of those sere due to Sheldon Souray’s shoulder problems. Steve Begin was out a total of 31 more with separate groin and shoulder injuries.
Since then the injury totals have almost doubled and the Canadiens have finished 8th, 8th and 6th in the East. The medical report reads like this: 2008-09 32 players for a total of 253 man-games; 2009-10 26 players/262 games; 2010-24 players/236 games.
So what’s the problem?
It’s easy to point at the 2009 Bob Gainey franchise-rebuild that made the club quicker but smaller. That argument doesn’t hold water because the year before 32 players at one time or the other missed games with injury.
Many good teams have crashed because of injuries over the years. In Canadiens history between 1999 and 2001 the Canadiens lost an unbelievable 1,066 injury man games. They missed the playoffs both years. The difference between then and now is the farm system. Eleven years ago the Canadiens farm system depth amounted to a half sponsorship of the Hamilton Bulldogs. Today the Canadiens stock the entire Hamilton team with spilloff in Wheeling of the East Coast Hockey League. Would the Canadiens have made the playoffs the last three years without the help of Hamilton graduates Ryan O’Byrne, Matt D’Agostini, Ryan White, P.K. Subban, Mathieu Darche. Max Pacioretty, Yannick Weber and David Desharnais?
I think not.
The Hamilton Bulldogs infusion of Subban, Pacioretty, Desharnais and Weber saved the Canadiens the last two seasons, and the Bulldogs are likely to be a key factor in the battle for a playoff spot this year as the injuries continue to pile up.