The downside to playing hurt

savarddown.jpgWhen a star hockey player is struggling, it’s not crazy to wonder “Is he hurt? Is he injured?” Some might respond with a token “that’s just an excuse” but in the realm of hockey, playing injured isn’t just common. It’s practically expected.

So whenever you can get a little perspective on what it must be like to deal with pain and play such a violent and demanding sport, it’s fascinating. Former player Justin Bourne provided a great take on the subject in a column for The Hockey News.

In my junior days, I had nearly broken my wrist in the first game of a playoff series against the Merritt Centennials. Merritt had the type of little punk you could backhand in front of his own parents and they’d shake your hand. Sure enough, he isolated my injury. Little slash. Tiny hack. Mini whack – for games on end. And before long, not only was I enraged, I didn’t want to skate anywhere near the kid. I was like Daniel Sedin on David Bolland in Round 2: completely out of my element.

These nagging, pestering aches and pains make you a different player, not because you’re consciously afraid of getting hit, but because you’re somewhat aware there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, play the game. You always have the option to play a safer way without getting singled out for hurting your team, but when “not hurting your team” is the goal, you’ve set the bar exceedingly low and your play suffers.

A decline in play caused by injuries is something that is sometimes overlooked. A player can actually cause harm to his team by playing injured if his effectiveness is limited to nothing. It’s kind of like showing up to work with the flu; sure, in your mind you’re being a “trooper” but you might also get your co-workers sick.

So, on some level, we need to keep some perspective. These athletes already fight through a grueling 82-game season and few are at 100 percent at this time of year. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re also getting paid millions to do so. It’s interesting to wonder who is playing with what, though. I guess that’s why depth is so important in hockey …

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    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.