When discussing what to expect from the Devils next season, the predictions will always have a caveat attached to them: can the team remain healthy enough to ice a winning lineup on a nightly basis? Between the overall age of the team and the injury history of its component parts, it is a very understandable concern. If players go down, chances are whoever replaces them will not be able to provide the same punch. The Devils have a little bit of depth on the current roster but it's certainly debatable whether they have enough to deal with the amount of injuries they could potentially see.
The Devils have a serviceable group on offense when they are healthy, but the issue is that the group features a number of players with injury issues. So what we should we expect from the most injury prone of the bunch?
Clowe's health troubles are well known-over the past few seasons as he has racked up somewhere between three and seven concussions, depending on who you ask (unless you ask Lou Lamoriello, in which case he has zero). Lou insists Clowe is fine and doing a normal summer workout routine, but that should be taken with
a grain an entire shaker of salt, considering the team refused to acknowledge that Clowe had a concussion while he sat out for over two months last fall due to concussion symptoms. With so many head injuries and his seeming unwillingness to adjust the way he plays in order to protect himself -- be prepared to shout "WHY DO YOU KEEP FIGHTING, YOU BLOCKHEAD?" at least a few times this season -- he's a good bet to miss time. I think anything above the 50 games played mark for Clowe will be a pleasant surprise.
Cammalleri has had consistent injury woes over the past several years, as he hasn't appeared in more than 67 games in a season since 2008-09. Now at the same time, he has never missed a crazy amount of time in any one season, either (hasn't played less than 63 games). The issue is a litany of different problems, as in the past two seasons alone he has missed time for a hip flexor injury, a hand injury, the flu, a concussion, and another upper body injury. When it is a wide variety of injuries that a player suffers, I am inclined to think it may just be a run of bad luck. Cammalleri is a bit on the small side, though, so maybe he just gets knocked around a bit while going to the net. I do think it's distinctly possible for Cammalleri to surprise people and get through a near-full season, but with how consistently banged up he gets, you wouldn't be blamed for expecting him to miss in the neighborhood of 15+ games.
Havlat is just about the gold standard of being injured over his career. He has missed more than 40 games in a season 3 times since 2005-06, and he has missed more than 25 games 5 times. He had always been productive between injuries over his career, but the past few years have seen his production take a bit of a hit with reduced roles on the Sharks. It's for this reason that the Devils were able to pick him off the scrap heap for so cheap. I think that Havlat has the opportunity to bounce back if he lines up alongside his friend Patrik Elias for a significant chunk of the season, but even if he does produce, I think you have to stick Havlat in the Clowe category, where you consider it a win if he's able to give you 50 productive games.
Salvador has had a few tough seasons, health-wise, as he has missed 51 games over the past two as well as missing the entire 2010-11 campaign with a concussion. He is now 38 years old and has put a lot of tough miles on his body at this point, so it's unlikely that it will get any easier for him to stay healthy. Whether Salvador is a loss if he does go down, well, your mileage may vary, but in the likely event that he does miss time, the roster as currently constructed will likely force Peter Harrold into the lineup on a regular basis. It could also necessitate the arrival of a prospect like Damon Severson, so again, this one may not hurt as much as some of the possible forward injuries, but it is something that will likely need to be addressed by the team, nonetheless.
While many of the other players on the team are not quite as renowned for getting injured, there are plenty of players who you wander how long can hold off father time.The Devils ended up the oldest team in the league last season by a pretty wide margin (via NHL Numbers), and stand to be similarly ancient, relative to the rest of the league, in this upcoming campaign as well. While the Devils had their share of injuries last year, they were near the middle of the pack in CHIP (Cap Hit of Injured Players) overall (11th), so their age didn't result in too much time missed. Adding Cammalleri and Havlat to that equation probably shifts the odds of a high CHIP up a few notches. Can they have similarly "good" fortune this year relative to their age? That remains to be seen, but they should be concerned that some of their most crucial players rest very much at the wrong end of the aging curve.
The biggest, and most important, question marks from this category would have to be Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias. Jagr is a freak of nature, to be sure, but no one is invincible and the big winger will turn 43 next February. With a large fraction of the Devils' hopes resting on his shoulders, it's hard not to be at least a little worried. Elias is another player who, discounting his half season missed due to Hepatitis A in 2005-06, has been pretty consistently healthy overall, save for his seemingly annual run-in with food-borne illness. Last season did see him miss some time, though, as he was dinged up a few different times, appearing in only 65 games. At 38, you are forced to wonder if that is due to his body starting to break down on him.
Questions linger for other players who are advanced in age as well, with a plethora of guys on the wrong side of 30 like Marek Zidicky (37), Dainius Zubrus (36), Tuomo Ruutu (31), and Michael Ryder (34). Even Andy Greene is starting to get up there, as he heads into the season at 31 years of age. Injures are often freak occurrences that don't necessarily rely on age, but when there are this many players with ages starting with "3" (or "4"), you are rolling the dice to an extent on bodies not breaking down.
Will They Be Able to Handle It?
The question going into next season will be if the Devils can deal with the injuries likely to happen. Is there enough depth to handle guys missing significant time? Someone like Josefson can jump into the lineup, or someone like Brunner can climb up the lineup and perhaps fill a bigger role, but if there are multiple injuries, the team may struggle to plug the gaps. Beyond the couple players sitting in the scratch suite, it will be up to the likes of Reid Boucher or perhaps Stefan Matteau to come up and make an impact. Boucher in particular seems like a big x-factor for the Devils if they get into injury trouble. If he can take a step forward and provide a boost at wing when given the opportunity, the team will be much better off for it. Beyond that, you are probably getting into the Mike Sislos and Tim Sestitos of the world, so I presume there will be a lot of crossed fingers with respect to the injury bug in Newark this season.
How much damage do you think will be done to the Devils' lineup via injuries? Anyone you think will surprise with a healthy season? Anyone you expect to see very little of? Through how many injuries do you think the Devils can sustain? Sound off with your thoughts below and thanks for reading.