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Sports hernias impacting NHL players of all ages, including potential No. 1 pick Nolan Patrick

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Months removed from sports hernia and hip surgeries, Claude Giroux still didn’t feel like himself.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ captain finally got back to normal by the end of the season, roughly nine months after going under the knife.

“I thought it’d be quicker, to be honest,” Giroux said. “It’s harder than I thought it would’ve been.”

Because of the unnatural motion of skating, hockey is among the most common sports for sports hernias, a catch-all term for what are also called core muscle injuries. Within the past couple of years, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild, Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals, Shayne Gostisbehere of the Flyers and goaltender Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes are among the NHL players to have an operation to repair a sports hernia or core muscle injury.

Dr. L. Michael Brunt, who has been a St. Louis Blues team physician since 1994, estimates that anywhere from six to 15 players each year undergo some type of sports hernia surgery – and it’s on the rise across all ages. Brunt, who has performed the surgery on Joel Ward, Mike Green, Matt Cooke, Doug Weight and others, believes the increase over the past 10 to 15 years has to do with better recognition of abdominal and groin injuries that are common in hockey, soccer and football players.

He also believes that too much repetition among young athletes in a single sport can cause problems, something others have blamed for more Tommy John surgeries among younger and younger pitchers.

“It’s because of the sudden propulsive movements: turning, cutting, etc., that occur at high rates of speed,” Brunt said. “Young athletes are committed to one sport very, very early on, and so there are these repetitive movements that occur because they’re not doing three or four sports year-round and mixing up their physical sports activity. They concentrate on one sport, and it’s that gradual wear and tear over the years that tends to predispose them to developing something like this.”

The recovery from surgery varies drastically from player to player, too. Nolan Patrick, who’s expected to be a top pick in the NHL draft next week, had surgery on his right side last summer, came back too soon and missed three months of his season.

Read more:

Potential No. 1 overall pick Nolan Patrick to miss world juniors

Nolan Patrick, potential top pick, dealt with two hernias

“Everybody’s different so it’s hard to put a blanket on it,” said veteran Dallas defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who played a full 82 games and had one of the best seasons of his career after summer sports hernia surgery in 2011. “There’s lots of variables: different surgeons doing it, different levels of tears. Some guys it’s just a simple hernia and mesh insertion. Other guys have (adductor muscles that) could be torn and then it’s a whole thing. … I think rehab was a huge part of it, and of course everybody has different rehab programs.”

Dr. William Brown , a California-based sports hernia specialist, said many different muscles, nerves and tendons can be injured – and inexperienced surgeons can miss other injuries in the area.

“Some of the athletes respond poorly because not everything’s fixed appropriately at the time of surgery,” Brown said. “If (other injuries) are missed, then that could be another one of those reasons why the athlete doesn’t heal quickly after the operation’s over.”

That’s one explanation for Patrick being limited to 33 games for the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings during his draft year. The 18-year-old center said he should have had two surgeries but isn’t dwelling on the situation as he looks forward to the draft.

“There’s a ton of guys that have these injuries these days and everyone bounces back from it,” said Patrick, who took two full months off skating from October to December before returning in January. “It happens to a lot of hockey players and mostly comes from over-usage. … It’s a tough bounce, but you know it’s the way it goes sometimes.”

When he came back, Patrick put up 16 goals and 42 assists in 28 games before a leg injury ended his season. Former NHL executive Craig Button, now a draft analyst for Canadian sports network TSN, said Patrick was more careful when he came back the second time and looked like an elite prospect again.

“Initially there was a little bit of a working-in process,” Button said. “But after he got right up to speed, I thought he was right back to where he was at.”

Patrick’s injury history is a question for the New Jersey Devils, who have the top pick, and it led the Flyers, who draft second, to bring him in to see their doctors after the scouting combine.

“I’ve had to take care of my hips and groins for my whole career, so I’ve learned how to manage that properly,” Hamhuis said. “To stay around in this league, you’ve got to stay healthy and allow your body to be in a good position.”

 

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.