Injury cascades: Which teams are most at risk to lose more players?

Victor Hedman was shaken up after taking a big hit from Jamie Benn against the boards.

As the 2015-16 NHL season gets underway there are currently 64 NHL players who are missing games due to injuries – either disclosed or undisclosed – for 27 different NHL teams. A number of those skaters are on LTIR and are extremely unlikely to skate in any games this season (Chris Pronger, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton). The rest are likely to return to the active roster at some point, but in the meantime, questions hover around their teams about what happens when those players are absent.

Other players step up and are expected to fill the role the absent player occupied. The higher in the lineup the injured player plays, the higher the workload for those asked to pick up the slack. This added stress can place increased pressure on teammates and, in many cases, can lead to an increased risk of injury to the remaining roster players. Last season the most obvious examples of this sort of cascade of injuries were the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus started well despite missing centres Brandon Dubinsky ($4.2 million) and Boone Jenner ($831,000) before the season began due to groin injury and a broken hand. They won four of their first six games, but then around Game 9 (Oct. 28th, 2014) things seriously went off the rails:

• D Ryan Murray ($894 K – 1st rd, 2nd overall pick 2012) was added to the IR after Game 7 with a knee injury.
• G Sergei Bobrovsky ($5.625 million) suffered a broken finger in Game 8 and was placed on the IR.
• C Artem Anisimov ($3.283 million) suffered a concussion on October 28 and was placed on the IR.
• C Mark Letestu ($1.3 million) suffered a groin injury on October 28 and was placed on the IR.
• D Cody Goloubef ($625,000) went down with a knee injury after Game 11 and placed on the IR.
• D Fedor Tyutin ($4.5 million) suffered a knee injury and was placed on the IR.

With a combined cap hit value of $21.25 million missing from the lineup, the increased load began to wear down the roster. Between Oct. 24 and Nov. 29, the Jackets went 2-13-2, and gained a paltry six points out of a possible 34 (0.176 Pt%). They had 14 points through 22 games, which left them 10 points out of a playoff spot and dead last in the NHL, trailing even Edmonton and Buffalo. Despite getting healthy and going 15-1-1 in their final 17 games, the Blue Jackets still failed to make the playoffs.

If you look at the positions of these injured players it makes sense that most of them were defenders and centres for a few reasons. First, playing increased minutes beyond the norm hampers conditioning and recovery abilities. Secondly, playing more exposes individual skaters to more opportunities in which to be injured.

In analyzing injury data across the 2010-2015 seasons in the NHL, we can see that the probability of losing contributing players from the active roster relative to them remaining healthy actually declines as injuries mount, but at certain specific thresholds there are spikes where the probability jumps. That’s concerning.

The first dangerous threshold of injury to an NHL team appears to be when a roster is missing pieces that consume around $6.5 million in cap space. This would roughly equate to the impact of a top-line forward or defender, or a high-end starting goaltender.


Essentially, $6.5 million is a threshold where we see a spike in the probability of losing more players to injury, and the rate at which injuries occur increases. Teams that are missing roster components that are worth below $5 million will generally see an equal probability of finishing a game unscathed or losing another player to injury. In other words, there isn’t an increased risk of injury beyond what we would expect to see due to random chance and every game is essentially a coin toss injury-wise.

As we move beyond the $5 million mark towards $6.5 million in player cap hit lost due to injury, the probability of an injury occurring to a healthy player starts to creep up, jumping from 35 per cent to 41 per cent, which is almost a 20 per cent increase in risk of injury.

Full-blown catastrophe approaches when teams are already decimated and their injury list mounts into a region where a total cap value of $15.5 million in players miss the same game. When teams are compensating for a void in contribution this big, the odds of another roster player suffering an injury again spike above 30 per cent.

So, currently, which teams are most in danger of suffering this level of injury catastrophe to their season?

Below we can see the top five teams in cap hit lost to injury and the aging Detroit Red Wings are clearly in a bad spot right now. Missing their captain and top line centre, Pavel Datsyuk, along with third line centre Darren Helm is putting pressure on the remaining centres, notably Henrik Zetterberg who has already taken some practice time off for “maintenance” days.

Danny DeKeyser is a key contributor for them on the blueline and Johan Franzen was placed on IR with concussion symptoms. He is out indefinitely, which is a grave concern considering his concussion history. Losing Luke Glendening to a lower-body injury last game is also problematic.

Detroit is quite likely to lose further players to injury no matter how well they manage their lineup. All of this should be weighed against the fact that we know Detroit has the lowest amount of travel of any team in the NHL this season, so at least that’s working in their favour.

TEAM Cap Hit of Injured Players Missing Player Count
DET $16,395,378 3C, 1W, 1D
NJ $12,016,666 1C, 1W, 1D
CGY $11,625,000 2C, 2D
BOS $10,122,500 2W, 2D
BUF $9,467,857 1C, 2D, 1G

Of the remaining four teams, Boston and Calgary are likely more concerning than Buffalo or New Jersey. Boston has lost Brad Marchand to concussion concerns, which have a murky recovery timetable at best, and the team has serious depth issues as they are struggling out of the gate.

Calgary’s injuries to Brodie and Bouma are both broken bones, which will require lengthy healing processes. Hopefully for them and their fans we won’t see an injury cascade similar to what Columbus witnessed last season.

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