The sky is blue. Winnipeg is cold in winter. Pizza is delicious. These three constants, deserve a fourth: Playing defence in the NHL is physically taxing. Not only do defencemen log the highest time on ice, but defencemen have to handle the physical demands of playing against burly forwards all the while being tough enough to stand in front of 100 MPH slap shots.
It’s pretty well established in NHL circles that you are best-off building your team form the back-end out, and as a result teams are never shy about paying for defencemen. The Winnipeg Jets are no different, as the current roster sees that three of the Jets top four highest paid players are defencemen.
However, and in-light of the most recent Zach Bogosian injury, what good are high-priced defencemen if they can’t stay in the lineup?
With Zach Bogosian out of the Jets line-up on a week-to-week basis with a groin strain, I decided to examine how injuries have impacted the Jets defense been over the last two-plus seasons, since the team relocated to Winnipeg from Atlanta.
For the most part, the four mainstays on the Jets defence corps has been Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian and Mark Stuart. I took the games played statistics from 2011-12, 2013 and the current season up to 21 games to see in fact how many games these four Jets defenceman had missed.
Editor’s note: The numbers below are up to & including any games played on Friday, November 15.
Mark Stuart has been the most durable of the mainstays on the Jets blue-line playing in 88.7% of the teams games over the past two-plus years. After playing in 80 of 82 games in 2011-12, he missed eight games last season due to an undisclosed injury, and this season has been on the IR after sliding into a goal post and injuring his hip.
Total games missed by Mark Stuart due to injury: 17 and counting (11.3% of Jets games)
It seems as if Dustin Byfuglien is constantly battling nagging injuries, but he has played in 86.1% of the Winnipeg Jets games since 2011-12. In the Jets return season to Winnipeg, Byfuglien missed 16 games with a knee injury, but since then has been relatively healthy. Last season, he missed only five games with what was described as a lower body injury, but so far this season, he has played in all of the Jets’ games. Byfuglien came into training camp in better shape, with one of the benefits being that he would be less susceptible to nagging injuries.
Total games missed due to injury: 21 (13.9% of Jets games)
After signing a seven year deal in the off-season, Zach Bogosian will be in Winnipeg for the foreseeable future, but are trips to the IR for Bogosian something that Jets fans will have to get used to? This season he has played in 20 of the teams 21 games, but will be out “longer than day-to-day” with a lower body injury (Editor’s note: it was announced that Bogosian will be out week-to-week with a groin strain). In 2011-12 he missed five games due to a lower body injury suffered in January. After coming back, he missed another seven games in March with an upper body injury. He sat out the final five games of that season with a wrist injury. With a lockout pending, Bogosian had wrist surgery on August 31, 2012, forcing him to sit out the first 12 games of the lock-out shortened 2013 season. Late in that season he was on the receiving end of a Kyle Okposo body-check/head-shot which caused him to miss the final three games of the season.
Games missed due to injury: 33 and counting (21.9% of Jets games)
Prior to moving to Winnipeg, Tobias Enstrom had been an ironman for the Atlanta Thrashers. He played in all 82 games during his first three seasons in the league. During the first two seasons in Winnipeg, injuries began to hit the undersized defenseman. Enstrom broke his collarbone in October 2011, causing him to miss 20 games. Last season, he missed 19 games with a shoulder injury and missed the final seven regular season games with a back injury. This season he has played in all 21 games, thus far.
Games missed due to injury: 46 (30.5% of Jets games)
The Jets four “main-stay” defencemen have missed 117 man-games (19.4% of Jets man-games).
117 man-games missed/604 Jets man-games played = 19.4%
For comparisons sake, I thought I’d look at last season’s Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, who have had a fairly stable defense over the past few seasons, to determine if they have had to deal with the same injury problems to defencemen.
Over the last three seasons, the four main-stays on their defense have been Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Nick Leddy. Those four defencemen have missed a total of 23 regular season games over the last three seasons, out of 149 regular season games played by the Blackhawks. (Duncan Keith missed another 6 regular season games due to various NHL-imposed suspensions).
Chicago’s four “main-stay” defensemen have missed 23 total games (3.9% of Hawks man-games).
23 man-games missed/596 Blackhawks man-games played = 3.9%
With the way the current roster is constructed, the Winnipeg Jets have very little room for error in their quest to make the playoffs. However, that task becomes increasingly difficult when four of the Jets main-stay defencemen are consistently missing games due to injury. While undoubtedly the injury bug has hit the Jets’ defence harder than it has hit the Blackhawks defence (as the above comparison demonstrates), the question of whether or not Bogosian, Byfuglien, Enstrom and Stuart can be considered injury prone is a subjective one, and a matter for debate among hockey fans. What cannot be disputed is the significant impact these injuries have had on the Jets and their on-going quest to be a playoff team in the NHL.
Sound off in the comments section: Are the Jets defencemen injury prone, and can a correlation be drawn between those injuries and the Jets inability to be a playoff team the first two years and thus far this season?