Are players going too far in playing injured — not just hurt — during the Playoffs? And how hurt will the Tampa Bay Lightning be as they enter the 2022-23 regular season?
Point, Kucherov, other Lightning players fought through nasty playoff injuries
The Athletic’s Joe Smith listed off the Lightning’s array of injuries, including what ailed Brayden Point and limited Nikita Kucherov:
Injuries coming out of todays exit interviews
McDonagh – mangled finger in ECF
Cirelli – both shoulders
Hagel / fractured foot
Bellemare – meniscus before playoffs
Paul – MCL sprain in Final
Kucherov – MCL sprain in Final
Perry – shoulder joint sprain in ECF#GoBolts
— Lightning Insider (@Erik_Erlendsson) June 28, 2022
Ryan McDonagh‘s “mangled finger” is one of those phrases that can dance around the brain for years.
The thought of hockey culture maybe instilling some pressure to fight through injuries too regularly comes to mind when Brayden Point … compared his tears.
Brayden Point said he didn’t feel like he could be effective. “I've had tears in the past that you can still find your stride and you can still play and still be effective. This one's different and just the power wasn't there and the tight turns and all that kind of stuff." pic.twitter.com/iY5mwqNNnB
— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) June 28, 2022
After gaping in awe at the strangeness of grading different muscle tears, consider that Brayden Point was on-point. While he courageously suited up for Game 1 and 2 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, his mobility was severely limited. Point’s high hockey IQ was intact, but the Lightning had their hands full (and needed to keep their legs moving) against the speedy Avalanche.
Following the end of the Lightning’s push for a Stanley Cup in Game 6, Jon Cooper offered early perspective on their injuries. He opined that, if it was a regular season game, “half of their AHL team” would have been called up.
As you can see from the list above, Point (quad tear), Kucherov (knee), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (knee), Anthony Cirelli (shoulder/collarbone), Corey Perry (shoulder), Brandon Hagel (foot) and Ryan McDonagh (finger) all were especially noted. It sounds like Cirelli suffered multiple shoulder injuries, and will need surgery.
#Bolts Stamkos: "It's been a long, grueling last 3 years. Now we've got another short offseason, but I'm confident that this group can take some time to recharge. Then, let's get back to work…We'll find a way. We have in the past, so that's the expectation."
— Chris Krenn (@Chris_Krenn) June 28, 2022
Considering all of the shot-blocking, there may be other Lightning players with lingering playoff injuries. Erik Cernak seemed increasingly doubtful as the 2022 Stanley Cup Final went along. Steven Stamkos started to really pile up shot blocks.
As far as the Avalanche go, we might get playoff/Stanley Cup Final injury updates later this week. In the meantime, speculate about what gnarly thing happened to Valeri Nichushkin‘s foot.
Valeri Nichushkin played through a foot injury last night and couldn’t get his skate on without medical assistance, according to a league source. Once he had the skate on, it was a question of playing through the pain, which he was able to do for nearly 23 minutes of ice time. pic.twitter.com/VFTaWzhVgU
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) June 27, 2022
Free agent losses could threaten absences, not just injuries; Annual Lightning salary cap questions
Combine injuries with flat-out fatigue, and you wonder if the Lightning may begin the 2022-23 season on a slow start.
The Lightning also could be without some key players, depending upon free agent decisions.
- Ondrej Palat, 31, continued to pile up “clutch” goals. Can the Lightning continue their run of “How did they keep that free agent?” signings with Palat? Evolving Hockey’s contract projections spit out a possible three-year contract with a $5.56M cap hit. Would Palat take even less to stay with the Lightning? Would another team offer quite a bit more (in years and/or term) to get a first-line Lightning asset?
- While the Lightning traded for someone under team control in Brandon Hagel, they also landed a great trade in Nicholas Paul. After playing for some bad Senators teams, Paul clearly valued this Lightning run. That said, this run also likely put Paul on plenty of extra radars. He said the right things about coming back, but who knows?
To their credit, the Lightning don’t just look at the short-term when making salary cap decisions. That’s key, as the Lightning could extend three enormously important players as soon as this offseason: Anthony Cirelli (24, $4.8M cap hit), Mikhail Sergachev (24, $4.8M), and Erik Cernak (25, $2.95M).
Each one of those players is worth a lot more than those cap figures. With the Lightning eternally scraping the salary cap ceiling, it’s tough to imagine them keeping Cirelli, Sergachev, and Cernak without losing one or more of Palat and Paul.
It all shapes up to be a real challenge for the Lightning to climb that playoff mountain once again. They very well might be taking those first steps quite gingerly.