Short-handed goals

Why the NHL needs to protect its star players

Devin Daley

The NHL saw its biggest rising star of the year go down with a “long-term” injury on Nov. 3 after getting tangled up with two Philadelphia Flyers’ defensemen and crashing into the boards. The result of the play was a fractured clavicle for Connor McDavid, who will need surgery and be out for “months” according to General Manager Peter Chiarelli.

It’s unfortunate to see any player suffer such a major injury, but it’s even more devastating to see one of the most promising rookies in recent years suffer an injury of this magnitude. McDavid led all NHL rookies with 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists) in the first 12 games of the year. The loss of McDavid will certainly hurt the Oilers as he had been involved in 33 percent of their goals through the 13th game of the season, in which he was injured. That type of production is almost irreplaceable, and the Oilers will surely struggle in replacing him.
The underlying problem in this scenario is the fact that this situation was even allowed to happen. The NHL has recently done a very poor job of protecting its superstars, and McDavid’s injury is just the most recent example of this. The NHL’s inability to limit dirty and overly physical plays has ultimately negated the abilities of the more skilled players to use their skills to their advantage. Instead, they have allowed teams to manhandle the players of the NHL to negate their skill.

A prime example of the NHL not being able to protect its star player was in the early part of the 2013-14 when Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos broke his tibia. Stamkos would go on to miss 46 NHL regular season games as well as missing the entirety of the 2014 Winter Olympic games, and returned only for some of the final games as well as the playoffs of that year. Despite returning from the injury, a case could be made that this injury may have affected what Stamkos’s top level of play is. Last year, in his first full season back after the broken tibia, Stamkos put up 72 points in 82 games. This seems like an acceptable rate until you compare it with his point totals in 2009-12 in which he put up over 90 points while playing 82 games in each of those seasons, while he scored 57 points in the 48 game season in 2012-13 that was shortened due to the lockout. Looking more apparent that the injury may have made Stamkos a far less effective player. Whether this becomes a theme is to be seen but if Stamkos is never the same again then the world has been deprived of seeing a great player become the best he could be.
Although he wasn’t affected to the same extent, Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby also went through injury problems after suffering back-to-back concussions in the 2010-11 season with some concussion symptoms lasting into the following season which caused him to miss games in both seasons. Crosby missed a bulk of his games when he missed the final 42 games of the 2010-11 season as well as all of the playoffs that year. At the time of his injury, Crosby was leading the league in points with 66 points and the injury obviously hindered his chances at the scoring title. The following season, Crosby was still plagued by lingering symptoms from his concussions in the previous season. In 2011-12 Crosby played just 22 games yet still managed to tally 37 points despite his small workload. Despite Crosby exceeding most people’s expectations due to his injury plagued season, it is unfortunate to think that injuries robbed fans of seeing Crosby play.

Some people may argue that physical play is part of the game of hockey, but when the physical play is leading to players suffering major injuries, a case can be made that the NHL needs to make an adjustment to keep their biggest stars on the ice. Other leagues such as the NFL, MLB and NBA have taken steps towards protecting their stars with new rules and stricter officiating. It’s about time they follow suit because after all, the NHL seems to be best when star players Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos and Kane are scoring, not when they are out due to injuries.