Inside the Game: Jan. 2, 2009
Friday, 01.2.2009 / 6:15 PM CT / Blogs
By Hockey Operations
The surgeon, Dr. Marc Philippon of the Steadman Hawkins Clinic, diagnosed Marian's hip problem Dec. 24 and proposed two treatment avenues: manage the injury the rest of this season and then have the hip surgically repaired, or address the issue surgically now. Marian has elected to address the problem now. Dr. Philippon explained to Marian and to us that Marian should be able to skate lightly in six weeks and return to the lineup in as soon as 10 weeks (mid March, with about a dozen games remaining).
This problem is not new to Marian. Following last season, Dr. Philippon repaired a deficiency in Marian's other hip, the right hip. At that point Marian displayed no sign of any issue with the left hip. To date, that procedure is a success. Marian came to camp with no pain in his right hip or groin and hasn't experienced any. However, following the second game of the season, Marian indicated pain in his left groin. Historically, rest has proven the best medical route for Marian's groins. He rested for weeks, attempted to skate and felt pain, rested more, attempted to play and again felt pain. That sequence led us to send Marian to Vail and Dr. Philippon eight days ago. The lack of improvement since led Marian to make this election.
This development is a challenge, but it is not a new challenge to our team (Marian has missed 86 of our 282 games over the last 3 1/2 seasons). Our success until Marian returns will have to come the way it always has: hard work by committed players, top special teams, steady team defense and goaltending, opportunistic scoring. The remainder of the season, with or without Marian, stood to be a battle, just as it was last year. With a team built to score and defend, we needed 79 games to clinch a playoff spot in 2007-08. This year stands to be the same. Entering tonight's games, three points (a mere win and a tie) separate eighth place and 14th place in the Western Conference.
We could look outside the organization to replace Marian's scoring, but realities stand in our way. With the exception of possibly three teams (the Sharks, Red Wings and Bruins) each team in the league has struggled at times this season, and yet there has been next to no change. Across the NHL, with the season nearing its halfway point, there have been only two trades of magnitude. St. Louis sent Lee Stempniak to Toronto for Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo. Tampa Bay sent Matt Carle to Philadelphia for Steve Eminger and Steve Downie. Just two.
There are the oft-publicized hindrances to transactions (the cap, no-trade clauses, the economy). Perhaps the greatest reason for the lack of swapping, though, is that teams are almost unanimously intent to develop their young players, as those players' upsides represent the most realistic means to sudden improvement. This is how the league's up-and-coming teams (Boston, Chicago, Washington, Pittsburgh, Montreal) began winning with such regularity.
And, if our young players develop as we expect, we'll have to pay them. Washington is the most striking example. A year ago the Capitals made an inspiring surge to win the Southeast Division with a young roster and the NHL's 27th-ranked payroll. This season, they have the league's 2nd-highest payroll. Raises paid to three top young players accounted for nearly that entire climb. We need to plan for a scenario in which our young players merit sizable raises.
In a hard cap system, each roster decision carries great consequences. Accordingly, injuries and dips in performance must be addressed carefully and strategically. For now, we will focus on each practice and game and the development therein. We will diligently investigate outside opportunities for potential improvement. And we will work closely with Marian to rehab his hip and groin.
Tomorrow night, we host the Red Wings. After the game, we will travel to Colorado for a Sunday game against the Avalanche. On his way ultimately to Vail, Marian will be aboard the plane with us, a member of our team and one we anticipate helping us when the games matter most.