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Injuries were more than an excuse

Following the season, Nashville Predators forward Colin Wilson was asked whether the shoulder injury he suffered at mid-season was a freak accident. He made light of the situation by joking, “I don’t know if you can really call it a freak injury with the fact that it happens quite consistently – you can tell by our team that it happens quite a bit.”

It was that kind of season for the Predators. Nothing went right from start to finish, and the vast amount of injuries played a prominent role in the Predators finishing 14th in the Western Conference.

Obviously there were other factors. Veterans underperformed, depth was a weakness rather than a strength, and the team didn’t handle adversity as well as they have in the past. All of that played a role in a disappointing season. But injuries are the biggest reason why they weren’t contending for a playoff spot in April, let alone playing hockey in May.

Paul Gaustad exited the lineup four separate times and missed 25 of 48 games. Patric Hornqvist was hurt on three different occasions and missed 24 games. Colin Wilson also missed half the season. Hal Gill was banged up all year. Pekka Rinne even admitted to playing through an injury this season.

In total, the Predators ended the season with 130 man games lost to injury.

“Just as one example,” GM David Poile explained, “as you can see when you have a player out of the lineup like Paul Gaustad, it just totally throws everything off in terms of your lines, your versatility and it impacts all the different facets of our game.”

Preds injuries

The Predators only played two games this season in which they had the full roster they initially thought they would have available to them (see: right).

Late in the season, head coach Barry Trotz mentioned that when that many injuries occur, it can be a bit of a helpless feeling as a coach.

“You’re hoping to have an effect. How much of an effect can you have? It can have a big effect in terms of the attitude and all that, but you may not be able to affect a whole lot on the ice. As a coach you just try to prepare them and give them a roadmap to follow,” he said.

“There are minefields along the way, and when you hit a minefield you have to be able to dust yourself off and figure out what happened and carry on. It’s kind of like the saying ‘Keep calm and carry on,’ but at the same time you’re trying to give confidence and trust to young guys and put them in situations where they have a chance to be successful.”

Wilson agreed that a lot of this season’s struggles had to do with injuries, “but before the injuries we still didn’t have the same identity that we normally have,” he said.

And he’s right. Through March 9, 25 games in, the Predators had a record of 10-9-6 and were tied for ninth place in the West with 26 points. The season up to that point was already a roller coaster. Their playoff chances weren’t looking all that great. They weren’t themselves.

Injuries happen to every team, every season. Look at the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have had to deal with injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal this season; or the Detroit Red Wings, who were missing multiple key depth players throughout the year. But both teams are in the playoffs, while Nashville is not.

For the Predators, there’s more to it than just the injuries. Then again, the injuries they suffered were paralyzing to a team that, as Wilson said, already wasn’t clicking before everything went downhill.

On March 9, Wilson suffered his shoulder injury against Minnesota. It came one night after Hornqvist also suffered a shoulder injury. Those were two players the Predators couldn’t afford to lose. Wilson was the team’s best forward with 19 points, while Hornqvist’s role was irreplaceable.

It had an effect on the power play, too, as the unit executed at a 19.6 percent clip with both in the lineup; a 16.0 percent clip with one or both sidelined. That’s the difference between the 12th- and 20th-ranked power plays in the league.

The losses of Gaustad and Gill made an even bigger impact on the penalty kill. With both in the lineup, the PK executed at a 85.9 percent clip. With one or both sidelined, the PK was a paltry 66.7 percent. That’s the difference between fifth and dead-last in the NHL.

But the back-to-back injuries to Wilson and Hornqvist acted as a decisive blow, as the Predators closed out the season with a 6-14-3 record in the final 23 contests.

“We were right there. I really believe the health issue – with our core players being there we probably would have been in the playoffs, but injuries didn’t allow that to happen,” Trotz said.

Midseason was about the time the injury bug became contagious, if you will, as bodies were dropping like flies. Hornqvist and Wilson went down, Gaustad got hurt again and Mike Fisher and Gabriel Bourque were mostly unavailable down the stretch.

Once Martin Erat was traded to Washington, the Predators were sporting a lineup that consisted of many players called up from Milwaukee. A total of 13 players that played in Nashville this season also played in Milwaukee (including the lockout). It’s tough to succeed when so many new, inexperienced faces are entering the lineup at once and getting saddled with important roles.

Only 11 players that were in the lineup on opening night also played in the season finale last month.

“Some things as a coach you have control of and some you don’t,” Trotz said of the injuries. “You look at the core players, especially at the forward position, our top two lines were really decimated. As a coach you can replace a guy here and there, you just can’t replace a whole bunch of them at the same time. It’s a tough task.”

Players and coaches won’t use injuries as an excuse. Sometimes that’s all they are – an excuse. But for the Predators, injuries were a critical reason why they missed out on the playoffs for just the second time in the last nine seasons.

“It’s unfortunate, it’s a part of the game, you don’t want to use that as an excuse. At the same time it’s been one of our problems that we’re missing some of our key players,” Rinne said late in the season. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself, but sometimes you do.”

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