NHL teams feeling pain of injuries and condensed schedule
FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 file photo, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos reacts after scoring against the New York Islanders during the first period of an NHL hockey game in New York. Stamkos. New Jersey's Taylor Hall. Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau. Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick. The NHL's injured-reserve list could ice its own all-star lineup. If it seems the league is missing some of its top talent due to injuries a quarter into the season, you're not mistaken. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
Steven Stamkos, Taylor Hall, Johnny Gaudreau and Jonathan Quick: The NHL's injured-reserve list could ice its own all-star lineup.
If it seems the league's top talent is sidelined a quarter into the season, you're not mistaken. No more is that aching trend apparent than in Buffalo, where five key Sabres players are out, including top centers Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly.
''I think the more injuries you have, obviously the harder it's going to be,'' said Sabres forward Evander Kane, who recently returned after missing 11 games with broken ribs. ''But there's no excuse. Nobody's going to feel sorry for you.''
Lightning players had a similar lament upon learning Stamkos was expected to miss four months with a torn ligament in his right knee.
''You can't sit here and sulk,'' forward Tyler Johnson said. ''We're just going to keep doing what we're doing.''
While the Lightning have the experienced depth to potentially overcome an injury to their captain, other young and rebuilding teams don't have that luxury.
One concern raised is whether the NHL's condensed schedule might be contributing to the rash of injuries. Players have less downtime in a season that began a week later because of the World Cup of Hockey, and also has the league squeezing in its All-Star Game and a five-day bye week that teams cannot enjoy until the second half of the season.
Some teams could use that breather now.
''I think we have to look at the schedule,'' said Flames coach Glen Gulutzan, assessing the growing number of injuries. ''As a coach, you're not sure what day it is half the time, if it's a game day or a non-game day. But it's a lot of games back to back. And it's a lot of games for the players.''
The Flames, who will be without Gaudreau (broken finger) for six weeks, are in the midst of a six-game road swing covering nine days. It's hardly any easier in the East. The Devils, minus Hall (left knee) are playing 14 games – including 10 on the road – in 27 days this month.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly disputed the notion that the league's tightened schedule is leading to an increase in injuries.
''I certainly don't think there is sufficient evidence that would suggest, much less demonstrate, that there has been a larger number of injuries this year than in the average year, or, more importantly, that any of the injuries that have been suffered to this point in the season had anything to do with the schedule,'' Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
In some cases that's true. Eichel sprained his left ankle in practice a day before Buffalo's season opener. Quick, the Kings goalie, hurt his groin in Los Angeles' season opener.
Without providing totals, Daly said, the number of man-games lost through Nov. 8 was up by a little more than eight percent over last year.
However, he noted, this year's total is either roughly the same or significantly less than five of the previous nine seasons. And this year's total is higher by more than 10 percent than only two of the past nine seasons.
NHL Players Association spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon told the AP it is ''too early to be drawing conclusions with respect to the number of injuries through this point of the season.''
Daly cautioned against using man-game lost figures published in most teams' game notes because he called the numbers unreliable.
Based on the game notes alone, the Oilers lead the NHL with 100 man-games lost, followed by Dallas with 93.
Stars GM Jim Nill believes the competitive playoff races and the tightened schedule are factors.
''I think we're all going to be within three and five wins of each other, the whole league, and that's going to be the difference between making the playoffs,'' Nill said. ''The competitiveness, and then you add in the condensed schedule, the speed of the game – the game has never been faster – and I think all those are a combination for these injuries.''
THEY SAID IT
Gulutzan shared a story regarding the first time Calgary forward Michael Frolik landed on his radar. It happened in 2012-13 season when he was an assistant in Dallas during Jaromir Jagr's only season with the Stars, and Frolik was in Chicago.
Gulutzan was unhappy following a lopsided loss to the Blackhawks, when he encountered Jagr in the weight room.
''Jags goes, `Coach, you're down about last night's game?''' Gulutzan recalled. ''And he goes, `Ah, Chicago's just better than us so I wouldn't worry about that.' And he goes: `Michael Frolik's playing on the fourth line in Chicago, and he could play on our first line here.'''
Gulutzan rolled his eyes and broke into a laugh, saying: ''Yeah, it was nice to hear from Jags, `Oh, don't worry about it coach. They're just better than us.' I was dying on the vine.''
The Vancouver Canucks have led after one period just once this season, and have been ahead after two just twice – both NHL lows.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are 7-1-2 in their past 10 games, following a 3-2 overtime loss to Colorado on Monday.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Wednesday, the Penguins travel to New York to face the Rangers two days after a 5-2 home loss to their Metropolitan Division rivals.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.