The NHL All-Star Game is the league’s yearly showcase of each team’s top talent (even you, Columbus!). Unfortunately, there are several players whose most notable skill is getting hurt. Whether bad luck, bad genes, or bad choices, there are more than enough of these oft-hurt players to fill out the roster on an injury all-star team. In a series that will take us through to the 2012 All-Star Game in Ottawa, we’re going to take a look at some of the more notable injury all-stars, starting with the goalies.
Josh Harding – Minnesota Wild
Stick-tap to the Backhand Shelf’s own Ms. Conduct (@msconduct10) for this nomination. Harding makes the roster on the strength of playing through the last half of 2009-10 on a junk hip, and completely missing 2010-2011 thanks to a knee blowout. The hip injury happened in January of 2010 but Harding kept playing (missing games here and there) with the help of a cortisone injection in the hip joint until late March .
The idea behind the shot (cortisone is a steroid) is to reduce pain and inflammation in a joint. The problem is these injections are not without complications – they can cause bone and cartilage destruction, and you really shouldn’t have them more than once every three or four months.
Harding finally shut it down in late March, and MRI revealed he had a torn labrum. The labrum is something goalies in particular seem to have a talent for tearing, and for obvious reasons. It’s a ring of cartilage around the socket of the hip joint – it deepens the socket, helps stabilize the hip, and gets cranky with a lot of hip flexion and external rotation (and how about that – you do both of those when you’re crouched in the crease). The fix is surgery (which Harding had), usually with a recovery time anywhere from two to six months.
Harding was back for the 2010-2011 preseason, and promptly blew out his right knee when Brad Boyes fell on it. He tore the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament). Considering those are two of the four major ligaments that hold your upper leg to your lower leg, that wasn’t an injury he could play through. He had surgery in late September, and by June of 2011 was proclaiming his complete recovery. In July the Wild re-signed him to a one-year contract. So far this season he’s been pretty okay, and the hip and knee seem to be behaving.
Ray Emery – Chicago Blackhawks
Ray Emery’s nomination is based on the fact that part of his leg is missing because they used it to fix his hip. That’s right. I could stop writing at this point and that would be enough. In March of 2010 Flyers GM Paul Holmgren announced that Emery was out for the rest of the season due to avascular necrosis (AVN) of the femoral head. AVN happens when the blood supply to bone is compromised, resulting in bone deterioration. In Emery’s case, the problem was the head of his right femur (the ball-looking deal at the top of the bone). The femoral head is a bit of a slacker in the blood supply department – it has a few small arteries that come up from the direction of the femur itself, and another that travels through a ligament from the hip socket into the head of the femur. AVN can be caused by plenty of things – trauma, steroid use, excess alcohol, chemo, radiation. Often no cause is ever determined. In Emery’s case, he suggested in interviews that it may have been due to genetic factors (and yes, that’s completely plausible).
AVN is usually treated with a total hip replacement, but that’s an unacceptable solution for anyone with any interest in a long-term fix or any sort of high-intensity physical activity. Hip implants are traditionally good for 10-15 years, and although technology is constantly improving, it’s a fact of life that the younger the hip replacement patient, the faster they wear out the new hip. Emery had a free vascularized fibular graft (FVFG), a technique that takes part of the fibula (a bone in the lower leg) and its blood supply and stuffs it into the femoral head to replace the dead bone and blood supply. FVFG has about an 80% success rate at ten years, and allows patients to (hopefully) resume an active lifestyle and put off a replacement. Technically you don’t need your fibula since it doesn’t really bear weight (that’s the tibia’s job – it’s the shin bone, and the lower leg bone that really does all the work). There’s generally no expectation after FVFG that a patient will be able to participate in high-impact activities, a fact that Ray Emery could care less about.
Emery had badass hip surgery, rehabbed like a badass, and about a year after his surgery the Anaheim Ducks picked him up on a one-year contract. The Ducks made the playoffs, and Emery made it onto my personal list of absolute badasses. He was also nominated for the Masterton (a far more badass accomplishment than my badass list). This year he’s signed with the Blackhawks, and frankly he could lose every single game and I’d still be impressed. What a badass.
Pascal Leclaire – Somewhere in Ottawa
Leclaire was supposed to be the answer to Ottawa’s goaltending woes. They sent Antoine Vermette to Columbus in March of 2009 for Leclaire and a second-round pick (which turned out to be goalie Robin Lehner, who likes to fight). Instead of the answer to their problems, Leclair ended up as Brian Elliott’s backup, which actually doesn’t seem like a big deal now that Elliott has remembered how to stop pucks.
Leclair came to Ottawa fresh off ankle surgery (warning sign? No? Really?) just in time for the Sens to not make the playoffs. He didn’t accomplish much at the beginning of the 2009-10 season (other than sending fans further into a spiral of depression), but in November went out with a pretty special injury – a puck caught him in the face during a game while he rode the bench, breaking his cheekbone. In January a puck caught him in the mask in practice, giving him a concussion. 2010-11 was even worse (incredible, but that’s possible), with Leclair having an assortment of lower body issues, which turned out to be a torn hip labrum. He was sent to the AHL in the spring for “conditioning” (which is code for “maybe if we ignore him he’ll go away”) after essentially being replaced by Craig Anderson. He had hip surgery in March, and wasn’t picked back up in July when he became a free agent (SHOCKING).
His hip issue was more than just a simple labrum tear - he ended up needing a microfracture repair, which is necessary when there’s damage to not just the labrum but the articular cartilage as well (the cartilage on the ball and in the socket that lets the hip move smoothly). In microfracture surgery, small holes are drilled in the bone under the cartilage, which (hopefully) stimulates the growth of new cartilage. It has a long recovery time – two months on crutches and several more of rehab. As of July 2011 Leclaire was still unable to pass the NHL’s fitness requirements, and thus still hadn’t signed anywhere. He’s hopeful he’ll be able to make a full comeback, no doubt preferably to something more exciting than the all-hurt all-stars.
Rick DiPietro – New York Islanders
DiPietro is the uncontested king of the injured goalies. I could easily devote an entire massive post to his various problems. The fact that he didn’t suck from 2005-2008 (which I define as a SV% above .900 and not literally falling apart) is overshadowed by the fact that the rest of the time he’s generally playing less than ten games a season. Let’s take a moment to stop and reflect on the fact that he has a 15 year, 67.5 million dollar contract (cleverly signed in 2006, one of his non-suck years).
Some year-by-year highlights of DiPietro’s laundry list of injuries:
- 2007: Concussion from running into Montreal’s Steve Begin, hip surgery for torn labrum.
- 2008: Hurt his hip in the All-Star Game skills competition, had more hip surgery. Knee surgery. More knee surgery.
- 2009: Finished his season in January due to swelling from knee surgery.
- 2010: Done in March (knee swelling).
- 2011: Concussion and facial fractures after Pittsburgh’s Brent Johnson knocked him the @#*& out in February. Puck off the mask in practice in October – concussion. November – out with groin issues. December – injured himself while on injured reserve (meta!)
Next up we’ll be picking defensemen for our all-star all-hurt team. Feel free to submit your nominations on twitter or in the comments. No, DiPietro can’t be selected in more than one category.