James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Dropping like flies and Flyers

Thursday, January 24, 2013


When pundits got wind of the fact that the 48-game season would be wedged into a precious few (and probably not Gretzky-inspired) 99 days, many remarked that it would represent a busy time for trainers. In particular, people expected a lot of rust-related, annoying injuries like groin pulls. They're probably right, as the pattern of troubling injury grows.

Wednesday’s normally known as Hump Day for those particularly devastated by cubicle life, but in the NHL, yesterday might as well have been named Bump Day.

Some of the injuries are cloudier than others, yet there were a few earth-shaking developments that could make a big impact on this hockey season - sometimes in reality as well as fantasy.

GOING DRY IN THE DESERT

For all the questions about Mike Smith really being skillful enough to match his breakthrough 2011-12 campaign, many lost sight of what has really been the big goalie’s largest issue through the years: his health.

Before he shockingly managed to play 67 very effective games for Dave Tippett and the Phoenix Coyotes last season, the 30-year-old netminder only generated seasons of 42, 41 and 22 games played in his previous three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Perhaps the beleaguered (but stubbornly successful) Coyotes franchise was foolish to put too many eggs in that basket for another season, as Smith left Wednesday’s game with a lower-body injury.

The early read is that it’s a day-to-day deal, but considering Jason “The Barber” LaBarbera’s shaky track record as anything more than a rare backup, Phoenix could be in a bad way if days turn to weeks.

If history is your guide, then the deck is really stacked against Smith. (On the other hand, recent history says that Tippett defies on-paper predictions/general logic to bring his teams to the playoffs, so this thing works both ways.)

THROWN FOR A LUPUL

Signing a winger with an up-and-down resume to a hefty five-year extension is nerve-wracking enough. Having him break something less than a week later might just warrant a nervous breakdown.

That seems to be the case for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 but lost Joffrey Lupul for what might be quite some time thanks to a bad bounce or two. Lupul fractured his forearm either from a Dion Phaneuf shot or Brooks Orpik slash - both happened in the same sequence.

Sports injuries can be odd. Sometimes a really bad-sounding injury (indeed, like a broken bone) can be easier to treat than a nagging issue like a high-ankle sprain. Still, the word “fractured forearm” aren’t exactly chicken soup for the Toronto fan’s soul.

DOWN GOES DOWNIE

Steve Downie is an enticing fantasy asset. In some ways, he’s become the new Todd Bertuzzi*: a guy with some suspension-related skeletons in his closet but some dazzling potential. While he’s not ever going to be a 100-point guy like the Big Bert of old, his very real 20-goal, 100+ PIM ceiling is awfully tempting when the late rounds roll around and every weak peripheral forward starts to blend together.

Unfortunately for Downie owners, those weak forwards have the distinct advantage of being able to collect stats this season.

The super-pest left Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings hobbling and it turns out that limping was ominous for a reason. He tore the ACL in his right knee and will require season-ending surgery.

That’s rough, no doubt. Hopefully a similar (and in this specific case, better) option like Chris Stewart is still on your waiver wire.

In a more abstract way, Downie going down might open up the potentially lucrative return of another erstwhile Colorado Avalanche forward. Ryan O’Reilly and the team are currently in negotiating limbo, yet the loss of a valuable forward might push management to pick up the pace with last season’s leading scorer.

I doubt O’Reilly will top all three of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny for another season, but that doesn’t mean he can’t crack your lineup anyway.

#HARTNELLDOWN (Indefinitely)

The last couple days are a good reminder that “friendly fire” is a real threat in the NHL. Lupul might have gotten injured by Phaneuf’s slapper and Kimmo Timonen’s shot left Scott Hartnell hobbling on Tuesday.

Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren used the foreboding “indefinite” timeframe for Hartnell’s issue, saying more will be known in the next day or so.

Hopefully that reading will be positive because things are starting to move in the battery-chucking-ugly direction in Philly. Daniel Briere might still need until next Tuesday to heal up his hairline wrist fracture while Brayden Schenn will serve a one-game suspension for his rather ridiculous charge on Anton Volchenkov.

To exasperate their problems, Philly faces the mighty New York Rangers tonight. The one silver lining is that the Rangers might be a little tuckered out after Wednesday’s Boston Bruins battle, but they probably won’t be shorthanded compared to the Flyers. (This would be a good time for Ilya Bryzgalov to earn those mega bucks, by the way.)

* - I know Bertuzzi is still playing, but he’s a shell of the husk of the wrapping paper that was his former, fantasy-prominent self.

After the jump: hat tricks and other considerations


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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than two years. Follow him on Twitter.
Email :James O'Brien


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