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The importance of health when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup

Want to be the last team standing? Better stay healthy

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Evgeni Malkin is the latest Penguin to suffer a major injury.

Getty Images Sport

Another week, another major injury for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The latest belongs to superstar Evgeni Malkin as he will miss two-to-three weeks with a foot injury to close out the regular season. It's been a never-ending run of bad luck for the Penguins that has left them without several of their top players (often at the same time).

It's been so bad that they have played just 11 games with all of their top-six players (Malkin, Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Paul Martin and Kris Letang) in the lineup at the same time. Together that group of players, which takes up more than 53 percent of the team's salary cap space ($34.6 million out of $64 million), has combined to miss 111 man-games out of a possible 426.

Or in other words, more than a quarter of the season.

With Malkin, Letang and Martin unlikely to play again during the regular season that number is only going to increase. And that doesn't even get into the season-ending injury suffered by forward Pascal Dupuis back in December, the wrist injury that's sidelined Beau Bennett, the blood clot issue that has caused backup goalie Tomas Vokoun to miss the entire season, or the various injuries to defensemen Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik.

As a team the Penguins have already lost 439 man-games this season which is by far the most in the league. The only team that really comes close, not only when it comes to the total number of games lost, but also the quality of player, is the Detroit Red Wings who have been without Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen, among many others, for long stretches of the season. 

For a team like Pittsburgh that's already short on depth it can be a devastating blow to their playoff chances, which brings us to a rather important part of winning the Stanley Cup, and one that is pretty much out of a team's control: The ability to stay healthy.

Sure, you need talent, you need to play with the puck, and you need goaltending (or, at the very least, you need your goaltending to not completely implode on itself), but you also need your top players to stay in the lineup. 

The Website ManGamesLost.com has a database as far back as the 2009-10 season that keeps track of the number of games each team has lost to injury, suspension and other factors, and the past four Stanley Cup champions have all had remarkable luck when it comes to keeping their best players healthy.

  • The 2009-10 Blackhawks were probably the unluckiest team over that stretch having lost 220 man-games which placed them 12th in the league. But while they were hit by the injury bug a little more than the league average, it was mostly coming from the bottom of their roster while their star players were consistently available. Between Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook they lost just 35 games. Brian Campbell missed 14 games, while Troy Brouwer and Andrew Ladd combined to miss just seven games. When it came to the playoffs, all of their top players were available for every single game.
  • The 2010-11 Bruins lost just 105 man-games, the second lowest total in the NHL while Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg combined to miss just 15.  
  • The 2011-12 Kings were the fifth healthiest team in the NHL having lost 168 man-games. When it comes to their top players, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Drew Doughty combined to miss just 11 games (Richards missed six while Doughty missed five. Kopitar, Williams and Brown were in the lineup all 82 games, as well as all 20 playoff games).
  • Last year's Blackhawks lost 94 man-games during the lockout shortened season which placed them 20th in the NHL, and like their 2009-10 team, they were remarkably healthy at the top of their roster as the Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Seabrook and Keith combined to miss just 31 games. Twenty of those games were missed by Sharp, and even he was back in time to appear in all 23 playoff games (scoring 10 goals).

Since the start of the 2009-10 season only seven teams, including this year's Penguins, lost more than 400 man-games. The Penguins will be the only team out of that group to qualify for the playoffs. 

Last year three teams were projected to have lost more than 400 man-games had it been a full 82-game season (the Devils, Flyers and Red Wings) while only Detroit made the playoffs out of that group. 

 

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