After a hard-fought and critical 4-1 victory in Boston Thursday night, the Florida Panthers awoke Friday morning in first place in the Atlantic Division. With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Cats are all but assured of a playoff spot (at least one erudite scribe called them “IN” back in January). With eight games remaining, they’ve already earned as many points (91) as they did in 82 games last season.
The Panthers’ performance to date is quite impressive, especially considering the number of injuries they’ve endured along the way. Through March 19, Florida ranked tenth in the NHL in man-games lost to injury, with 253. Just three Panthers have dressed for all 74 games played to date: Brian Campbell, Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck.
How much have injuries cost the Cats this season? While much ink could be spilled on the impact of injuries on possession stats, goals for and against, special teams play, etc., only one number really matters: points, in the form of two per win and one per overtime or shootout loss.
When looking at Florida’s points percentage with and without individual players in the lineup, one fact becomes clear: Some Panthers hurt more than others. Most injuries have a negative impact on overall team performance, while surprisingly, the Cats seem to benefit from the absence of a select few. A glance at the team’s points percentage with and without each player in the lineup is illuminating.
Next to each player is the number of games missed, as well as the Panthers’ points percentage with and without that forward in the lineup. For comparison’s sake, Florida’s overall points percentage through 74 games is .615.
- Aleksander Barkov: 16 games, .638 with/.531 without.
- Jonathan Huberdeau: 6 games, .632 / .417.
- Jaromir Jagr: 3 games, .620 / .500.
- Nick Bjugstad: 15 games, .568 / .800.
- Derek MacKenzie: 15 games, .627 / .536.
- Dave Bolland: 49 games, .560 / .643.
Unsurprisingly, the Panthers are a better team when their top line of Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr is healthy. MacKenzie’s value to the team in his role as fourth-line center is evident, as well.
The team points percentage without Bjugstad in the lineup, while shocking at first glance, is easily explained: The big center missed the entire month of December with migraines. His absence forced head coach Gerard Gallant to move Vincent Trocheck from wing to center, and the rest is history: On the 15th of that month, Florida began a franchise-record 12-game win streak. Bjugstad missed the first eight games of that improbable run. Streak aside, the Cats were a much more down-to-earth 4-3-0 (.571) without him in the lineup.
Sadly, the Panthers’ performance without Dave Bolland can’t be explained away by the record win streak alone. The fact is, Bolland has been plagued by injuries for most of his career and they’ve taken their toll. He’s not the same player who won two Stanley Cups in Chicago. At this point, the only question is: Will the Panthers buy out his contract this summer, or keep him for another year in order to meet the salary requirement for a potential expansion draft?
Florida’s points percentage with and without their key defensemen is equally interesting:
- Aaron Ekblad: 4 games, .643 with/.125 without.
- Erik Gudbranson: 13 games, .631 / .538.
- Dmitry Kulikov: 8 games, .606 / .688.
- Willie Mitchell: 28 games, .620 / .607.
- Alex Petrovic: 13 games, .598 / .692.
In Ekblad’s case, a small sample size skews the numbers somewhat. That said, after going 0-3-1 without him, neither the Panthers nor their fans want to find out what might happen if their Calder Trophy-winning defenseman missed even more time.
Gudbranson’s physical presence, whether clearing the crease, blocking shots or delivering devastating hits on opposing forwards, is clearly missed when he’s out. Florida is a much better team with him in the lineup.
Missing the first four games of a five-game win streak after American Thanksgiving makes Kulikov’s numbers look deceivingly bad; minus those four wins, the Cats are 1-2-1 (.375) without the Russian blueliner. Petrovic is also a victim of Florida’s streaks, missing the last four victories of the aforementioned Thanksgiving streak and the first four of the twelve-game run. Streaks aside, the Panthers are 1-4-0 without Petrovic.
As was written here earlier this week, team captain Willie Mitchell’s career is likely over, due to concussions. If so, it’s a shame, as his leadership and veteran savvy will be missed. As the numbers indicate, the Panthers are a better team with him in the lineup.
Many factors contribute to wins and losses, so it’s hard to point to one statistic as the reason for a particular outcome. Nonetheless, the numbers above show the impact of injuries on Florida’s points percentage. For better or worse, some Panthers really do hurt more than others.
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.