For every NHL team at the beginning of the regular season, there is the hope of hoisting the Stanley Cup in June. For the Canucks, Red Wings and Canadiens, this year was no different. Vancouver was looking to prove that the Moneyball philosophy could work in hockey, the Red Wings were trying to seal their fate as the team of the past decade, and the Canadiens were looking for their 25th Stanley Cup. Everything seemed destined to work out for these proud franchises that were looking forward to fantastic seasons.
However, just like for many other teams in previous years, when everything looked to work out for the best, everything suddenly turned for the worst. In Montreal's first game of the season, Andrei Markov suffered a lacerated ankle injury after colliding with goalie Carey Price in a victory over Toronto. Only a week later, Daniel Sedin suffered the first major injury of his career when he broke his foot after taking a slapshot from teammate Alexander Edler. Then a few days after Sedin's injury, Johan Franzen tore a knee ligament in a victory against the archrival Chicago Blackhawks. The significant injuries to these three players that should sideline them for a portion of the season put the aspirations of these organizations in the air and the dreams of their fans into doubt. Could these teams still compete and make it to the postseason, where anything is possible, or will their dreams be shattered of a 2010 Stanley Cup parade?
Tom Awad: Anybody who watched the Montreal Canadiens’ 4-game playoff loss to the Bruins last spring knows it wasn’t pretty. What separated those Canadiens from an actual playoff-caliber team was the absence of their #1 defenseman, Andrei Markov, from the lineup. Unfortunately, Habs fans are about to relive that nightmare, as Markov has sliced a tendon in his ankle and will be out for at least 4 months. This changes the Canadiens situation entirely. Markov is far and away their best player, the quarterback of their power-play, and last season he spent more minutes killing penalties than any other Canadiens player (ahead of Mike Komisarek!). While the Canadiens are a vastly different team from last season, Markov is still their rock, and with all due respect to Marc-Andre Bergeron there’s no way he can fill those skates. While the Canadiens looked like a 6th-8th seed playoff team at the beginning of the season, they are now almost certain to miss them entirely. So much for the 101st season.
Richard Pollock: The loss of a team’s number one defenseman is always troubling; the loss of a team’s number one defenseman on a team that doesn’t really have a number two defenseman makes it all the more troubling.
Last season, Andrei Markov inexplicably led the Canadiens in scoring with 64 points. (As an aside, how on earth does a defenseman lead a team in scoring? I mean, this isn’t Bobby Orr we are talking about; but I digress.) So, when Jacques Martin took the reins in Montreal, he was certainly counting on Andrei Markov to carry the majority of the weight on the team’s back-end. And why wouldn’t he? Last season, Markov led the Canadiens defenseman in power play goals (7), time on ice per game (24:37), power play time on ice per game (5:09) and was second in short-handed ice-time per game (3:10).
The problem is not just that Markov is the team’s best puck-moving and skating defenseman, or that he is essential on the power play, it is that the Habs have no one to adequately replace him. At least in Philadelphia, if Pronger goes down, they have Timonen; or in Chicago if Keith goes down they have Seabrook. In Montreal, the next highest defenseman GVT to Markov’s 15.3 last season was Roman Hamrlik’s 8.2. Sure the team has brought in Hal Gill (GVT 2.9) and Jaroslav Spacek (GVT 9.7), but both are not the all-around defensemen that Markov is. Gill lacks offensive skill and Spacek can be a disaster in his defensive zone. Paul Mara’s 5.2 GVT helps too, but remember the team lost Mike Komisarek over the summer.
Whichever way you spin it, losing your best all-around defenseman for up to four months is a disaster. If the Habs are still in the Northeast Division race (it is possible because that division is weak) when the Russian rearguard returns, that will say a lot about the job coach Jacques Martin has done masking this loss.
Iain Fyffe: A long-term injury to Markov was the absolute worst thing that could happen to the Habs this year, and there you go. While the team does have good depth on defense, with players like Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik and even Paul Mara able to fill in as the number one defenseman for a time, four months is a bit much. Markov is the quiet leader of this team, and its best player. The Habs should be able to stay in contention for a playoff spot in his absence, however, and on his return push to claim a spot.
Robert Vollman: While the Montreal Canadiens have other capable puck-moving defensemen, losing the 3rd top scoring defenseman since the lockout Andrei Markov, could take a big bite out of their power play. They're currently sitting 21st in the league at 18.8% with the man advantage, and that could continue to slip unless Hamrlik and Spacek can get the Habs humming again.
Andrew Rothstein: Losing Andrei Markov hurts a lot for the Habs. Not even through a trade would Montreal be likely to replace Makov's 13.0 VUKOTA projected GVT for the year, which easily places him among the top 10 defensemen in the league. Last year's 3.2 GVT on the power-play, 15th in the league, now seems like a very difficult task to achieve rather than an expected outcome for the Canadiens. I would have faith in Jaroslav Spacek reasonably replacing many number one defensemen in the league, but filling Markov's shoes is a very tall order. My outlook on the Canadiens season isn't as dire as some of my colleagues, but any chance of the Habs meeting their surprising team VUKOTA projection appears to be unlikely now.
Tom Awad: No team has lost more players more quickly in the last 6 months than the Detroit Red Wings, and just when it seemed like things had stabilized the Wings received another blow when they learned that Johan Franzen will be out for at least 4 months. Franzen’s loss will be a gain for young players like Justin Abdelkader, Ville Leino and Darren Helm, who will get increased opportunity as the depth chart shifts up to make up for Franzen’s absence. Franzen’s projected GVT with VUKOTA was 13, so if he missed 2/3 of the season that would be a loss of 9 goals for the Red Wings. While they have enough depth that this injury shouldn’t crush them, the Wings will be nothing like last season’s team that ran away with the league scoring lead at 295 goals. Between Marian Hossa (40), Jiri Hudler (23), Mikael Samuelsson (19) and now Franzen (34), that’s 116 goals scored off last year’s roster. Goaltender Chris Osgood had better not give a repeat of last year’s regular season, since it’s almost certain the Red Wings will finish below 7th in the league for the first time since 1992 (yes, you read that correctly), and missing the playoffs altogether is no longer unthinkable.
Richard Pollock: Much was made about the Red Wings’ losses over the off-season. Some believe the loss of Marian Hossa was most significant, and it is hard to disagree with that; however, I, for one, thought Hossa’s departure was a foregone conclusion. To me, the Red Wings signed him for one year essentially knowing he was only going to be in town for one season. After Hossa’s departure and the widely reported, yet not overly significant, losses of Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky, some were concerned about the Red Wings’ chances of returning to the Cup final. Then, Jiri Hudler decided to bolt for the KHL. Hudler’s move, in my opinion, was the most significant off-season loss for Detroit. Gone was a player the team had invested time and money into, a player that was expected to score at least 30 goals in 2009/10 and a player that was going to make up for a lot of the lost offense that came with the Marian Hossa departure.
Even through what can only be a termed a difficult off-season, the Red Wings took solace in their seemingly endless scoring depth. The talents of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen were going to be relied upon to make up for the above losses. However, that plan fell by the wayside last week when word came down that Franzen would be out for 4-6 months. Gone from the lineup was Franzen’s 15.2 GVT from a season ago (44th in the entire NHL). Add in the aforementioned losses of Marian Hossa (19.7 GVT), Mikael Samuelsson (4.4 GVT), Jiri Hudler (10.9 GVT) and the Red Wings are now playing without a total of 50.2 GVT from a season ago. Sure these players have been “replaced” but Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams, et al do not exactly inspire confidence.
The off-season departures hurt, but the Franzen injury may have been the last straw that shatters the Red Wings’ chances of winning the Central Division.
Robert Vollman: The Detroit Red Wings were counting on Johan Franzen to follow up on his amazing post-season performance and fill the hole that was left by Hossa. The Red Wings have a depth of forwards, and I envy those who are going to get the opportunities Franzen leaves behind. How about Todd Bertuzzi? In a decade full of second chances, this might be his last one.
Will Carroll: Daniel Sedin is out with a broken left foot. Initially thought to be just a bone bruise, an MRI showed a small crack in the rear of his foot. This portion is both fragile yet quickly healing - the key is that the foot has to heal cleanly or it can end up causing foot/ankle problems down the line. Since it's his left foot and he's a left wing, it's the foot he will need to push towards the goal or to load up on a slap shot. Luckily, that's not key to his game, though quickness is and that will be affected in the short term. Sedin is pushing to get back in three weeks, but if he just gets back to re-injure it, there's no point in that. Look for Sedin to come back at the front of the expected four to six week range and immediately become one of the Canucks' top options again.
Iain Fyffe: It will be interesting to see how Henrik responds to playing without his brother. They've played almost every game together for as far back as records are generally available, to 1997 when they played junior in Sweden. It will certainly hurt the Canuck offense, but they have a couple of speedy left wingers in Alexandre Burrows and Mason Raymond who might click on the top line.
Robert Vollman: Daniel Sedin is one of the best two-way forwards in the game, and his loss will have a very significant effect on the Canucks at both ends of the ice. This could be an opportunity for someone like Bernier, Raymond or Wellwood to showcase their abilities and help the Canucks evolve beyond being a one-line threat upon Sedin's return.
Andrew Rothstein: I'm more interested in seeing how Daniel Sedin responds after returning to the ice from his injury in a few weeks than the immediate impact on the Vancouver Canucks without him. The Canucks will be fine without their top VUKOTA projected player in the short-term, though the way the Calgary Flames have looked so far, the Canucks could use two points for every game they play from here on out. Some players who have a history of being healthy don't respond very well to the first major injury of their careers. If Sedin can't play as expected or plays without the ability to move up and down the ice as much as he's use to, then Vancouver could be in trouble in November. Otherwise, I think this is just a slight bump in the road for a team that has the talent to win the Stanley Cup.
This column was authored by the staff of Puck Prospectus.