With Tampa’s announcement that Steven Stamkos will miss one-to-three months, there was an instant impact to their ability to make a deep playoff run.
But Stamkos isn’t the only player whose absence could have a major impact on his team’s ability to make a playoff run. Here are the 12 players whose absence could have the biggest impact on the postseason.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning: Anton Stralman & Steven Stamkos
After a slow start to the season, the Lightning began looking more like the team that made it to the Final last year. However, the loss of one of the league’s most dangerous offensive weapons could be devastating.
Like the team, he hasn’t been quite at the level he was last year, but a slow start has masked the fact that he’s not far from another 40-goal season.
Less heralded, but equally devastating will be the loss of top-pairing defenseman Anton Stralman. He’s out with a non-displaced fracture of his left fibula. There is hope he can return though.
However, you can’t replace a top-pairing defender, especially when games start to tighten up. Stralman is a smart player in his own zone and is largely unheralded for how good he is. His 3.99% score-adjusted CF%Rel is second only to Victor Hedman on the team.
2. Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford
Crawford was having a Vezina Finalist-worthy season, and has had a bigger impact on Chicago’s success than in past seasons. They haven’t been as capable of driving play and scoring opportunity differentials as in past championship years and have had to lean more heavily on goaltending. (This season’s 50.5% CF% is the team’s worst possession mark since the 2007-08 season.
Fortunately, Crawford has been giving them great goaltending with their second-best even strength save percentage as a team over the last 11 seasons. Now he’s out with an undisclosed malady that has been reported to be a head injury.
Scott Darling has been good in relief and managed to get them out of a tricky first round match against the Predators when Chicago struggled last season. So it’s not necessarily doom and gloom, but if there’s a larger burden on goaltending in the postseason, can Darling handle that?
The silver lining is that coach Joel Quenneville said he’s hopeful that Crawford may become available by the postseason.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury & Olli Maatta
Stamkos buried another big loss that was revealed Saturday: Marc-Andre Fleury has suffered his second concussion of the season. That gives the reins to rookie netminder Matt Murray, who grabbed his first career shutout Saturday.
Murray is a capable goaltender, but putting the season in the hands of a rookie is always scary.
Additionally, the team is still without center Evgeni Malkin. Many predicted that his absence would spell a playoff miss for the Penguins, who clinched Saturday, but they’ve been thriving without the player who was unquestionably their best player in the first half of the year.
The initial timeline on his injury would have had him back late in the first round, at best. But no matter how well they’re playing, there’s no way they don’t miss him if he’s not back by the postseason. That’s true even if Matt Cullen is thriving and it’s tough to imagine breaking up Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.
They’ve also got one more key injury. Defenseman Olli Maatta is still considered week-to-week. There’s no sense on whether this injury means he’ll miss any playoff games or not, but the week-to-week designation doesn’t bode well for his availability.
4. Florida Panthers: Vincent Trocheck & Willie Mitchell
Vincent Trocheck’s absence may not be front page news, but it’s a big deal to the Panthers. If they’re going to make a run, there needs to be a line besides the Jagr-Barkov-Huberdeau line that is capable of posing an offensive threat. Trocheck was giving them that in a breakout season.
He has 29 points in his last 30 games and since the start of 2016 he has a 8.6% score-adjusted CF%Rel. On the season he has a 4.14%, which is the third best mark among team forwards.
His impact has been huge, especially with Nick Bjugstad struggling to get back to form from last season. Bjugstad will need to find his game and the team will need to hope that Trocheck’s injury doesn’t extend too long into the postseason.
Also potentially missing is defenseman Willie Mitchell, who has been cleared to play again, but it was suggested to him that due to concussions, he should maybe not play again.
It’s a tough decision for him personally. His absence on ice (-7.34% CF%Rel) isn’t the same as losing the wildly under-rated Brian Campbell or Aaron Ekblad, but he’s the team’s leader and going the rest of the way without him will take a toll in the locker room and on the ice, where defensive depth is a problem.
5. Los Angeles Kings: Marian Gaborik
Kings coach Darryl Sutter recently said, “There’s no way a player, unless he can play regular-season games, I have no interest playing him in the playoffs.” That’s an awkward situation for Gaborik who had initially been slated to play in the final games of the season after being sidelined since Feb. 12 with a knee injury.
They need Gaborik, but they may need the Gaborik of last year more than the Gaborik who played earlier in the year. This season, he has the worst scoring rate of his career with a 0.7 G/60.
While the Kings have been fine without him, they do need all scoring depth they can get. On the season, they rank 14th in goals per game, but the Ducks have been scoring at an incredible rate, the Sharks are loaded with weapons, and their two potential wild card opponents aren’t much different. The Predators have been one of the hottest teams in the league and very tough to score on. The Wild have scored the most goals in the NHL since coach John Torchetti took over on Feb. 15.
6. San Jose Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Very little has been shared about what’s going on with Vlasic. There’s no timetable for his return, and no details about what’s ailing him. However, we do know that he hasn’t returned to the ice yet and that doesn’t bode well for his postseason availability.
The frequently unheralded (though less than people say, he did make the Olympic squad) defender has the team’s best possession marks among defenseman with a 3.07% score-adjusted CF%Rel. If he’s out in the postseason, it seriously hinders their ability to make a run, even if Tomas Hertl is playing like a madman and Joe Thornton is having an incredible year.
6. New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak & Travis Hamonic
Starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak is done for the regular season, and could miss some playoff time. It’s far from a sure thing, but a lack of goaltending depth could be a problem for the Islanders.
Thomas Greiss had a better save percentage than Halak at the time Halak left the lineup, but in the nine games since Halak went out, Greiss has just a .906 save percentage. He hasn’t fared as well with the weight of the team on his shoulders. Halak’s absence, once viewed as an opportunity for Greiss, could now be a big problem for the team.
Even more troubling is the potential loss of Travis Hamonic. He’s done for the regular season after going knee-on-knee with Scott Hartnell this week. His 1.66% score-adjusted CF%Rel is the best mark among team defensemen and things thin out pretty quickly if you’re replacing him from the bottom of the roster. Playing without Hamonic will be tough.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.