As the Devils roll on through the 2017-18 season, they find themselves continuing to battle near the top of an extremely competitive Metropolitan Division. That challenge may get tougher for New Jersey based on some recent developments in one department: injuries. Yes, the injury bug is biting the Devils pretty hard at the moment and particularly in the absence of a player like Taylor Hall, the team faces a bit of an uphill climb on the ice. Last night, the Devils acquitted themselves well, putting up a pretty solid effort in an OT loss to the Canadiens, but if any of the injuries they are currently dealing with linger — or if more injuries are added to the list — the team could be in for a difficult stretch.
The Devils this season have already been dealing with a bit of injury troubles, first with Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle sidelined for the start of the season and then with injuries to top forwards like Marcus Johansson and Kyle Palmieri. The team has played well enough in spite of those troubles, though, given their position near the top of the division. The Devils aren’t the most injured team in the league this season (that dubious honor belongs to the Ducks, who have been utterly decimated by inuries), but they are certainly near the top. Courtesy of NHL Injury Viz, a really cool resource for this kind of thing, here is the breakdown of NHL teams by CHIP through December 9th:
For the uninitiated, CHIP is “cap hit of injured players” a metric that seeks to determine the teams hit hardest by injuries by scaling each man-game lost for a team to the cap hit of the given player. It’s an imperfect metric (some guys are obviously paid more/less than they are worth), but it’s a pretty good tool to measure impact in a way that’s more accurate than straight up man-games lost.
So through the end of last week, the Devils were 9th in the league in CHIP, with their forwards being hit especially hard (they were 5th in forward chip). After a week that has had injuries to both Johansson and Palmieri as well as Hall after taking that knee-on-knee hit on Tuesday, those rankings are only likely to go up. While it’s encouraging that the Devils have been able to stay competitive through a lot of injuries so far, one has to wonder how long they can maintain their pace (currently 103 points over 82 games) without a cleaner bill of health.
The most problematic of the injuries is obviously Hall. Hall is the engine that drives this team right now and a difference-maker everywhere on the ice. The team and fans got some positive news on Wednesday when it was reported that Hall only had a bruise and no structural damage, but even a short term absence for Hall isn’t great for a Devils team that really relies on him to power their transition game and offense. The team showed that they can at least weather the storm for one game, but scoring will obviously be more difficult any time Hall is missing.
The injuries outside of Hall are also obviously impactful. Johansson has been the victim of some rough luck so far this season, with a concussion and now an ankle injury off a blocked shot after being very healthy the four years prior. Palmieri is also just getting close to a return after missing significant time off another shot-block that broke his foot. Putting aside the fact that shot-blocking is a menace to this team, injuries like these are now especially painful with the team trading Adam Henrique a couple weeks ago. That means the Devils, who luckily have some unexpected contributors that have greatly bolstered their depth, were playing last night without arguably four of their top six or seven forwards coming into the season. That is going to limit any team no matter how deep they are.
Luckily on defense, where the team is much thinner, the team hasn’t sustained as many injuries with just Mirco Mueller out for an extended stretch. With an already shaky unit, it’s fair to wonder what significant injury troubles could do to the blue line. Hopefully, we do not have to find out.
So I’m sure most Devils fans will join me in hoping that this recent rash of injuries does not persist and we can maybe get at least one game this season with a fully intact top six. As we saw last night, the team is scrappy and capable enough to hang with teams even with the lineup badly limited, but I doubt that is a state of affairs the team could keep up for an overly long stretch. If the team continues to hover in the top ten or even top five (where I suspect they might be after this week) on the CHIP rankings, it could be tough for this team to continue to battle at the top of the division. Here’s hoping for a healthy roster at some point as we head toward the New Year.