There is less than a week until the trade deadline, and teams around the League are in the process of trying to fill some last-minute shopping needs. Some of those teams' decisions could be affected by a collection of key figures who currently are unavailable because of injury.
The big questions for those teams will be: Does the return of said injured player (or players) fill the needs that we have, and are we confident said injured player will indeed return and be effective? If the answer to either of those questions is no, then expect that team to be active in the coming days.
Here's a look at some teams whose fortunes could be altered by the return of a key player from injury, or the proverbial "addition from within."
Sidney Crosby, Penguins
-- No player could change the course of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs like a healthy Crosby. As the Penguins currently are constructed, they are a threat to at least win a round or two in the postseason, and it wouldn't be a shock to see them in the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in five seasons if they received a couple of breaks along the way (and another forward who makes less than $3 million of non-Crosby related acquisition space).
Center - PIT
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 12
SOG: 31 | +/-: 7
With a healthy Crosby, the Penguins become one of the favorites in the East, along with Boston and the New York Rangers
. The issue is can Crosby get healthy in time for the postseason and remain available to play for two months.
Another issue is the Penguins probably aren't going to know definitively if Crosby can come back by the Monday afternoon deadline. Penguins General Manager Ray Shero
likely will have to make an educated guess, and even if that is "no," then all of the long-term injury cap relief provided by Crosby is in play -- but Shero finding a way to use it effectively could be a huge challenge.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
-- Among the teams currently not in the top eight of either conference, the Capitals are the team that stands to gain the most from the return of an injured player. Backstrom easily has been the best player in D.C. this season -- he led the team in scoring for more than a month after being concussed by an elbow from Rene Bourque
Add a healthy Backstrom for even 10 games, and it might be enough for the Capitals to secure a playoff spot. Couple a full return to health for Backstrom and Mike Green
, who just returned from sports-hernia surgery, and the Capitals become a dangerous club to deal with in the postseason.
Like Crosby, Backstrom's return date also is a mystery. He hasn't skated in weeks, so even once that progression occurs it is going to take him a while to get back to full speed. Capitals General Manager George McPhee
has less cap space to work with than Shero, so any deal this week is either going to include salary going the other way or be an admission that Washington is unsure Backstrom will be able to return this season.
There's also a chance that if the team's current funk does not subside that Backstrom's return could be too late to save the season.
Martin Havlat, Sharks
-- The Sharks continue to pace the Pacific Division, but a recent run of uneven form (5-7-2 since Jan. 19) has left San Jose out of the race for a top-two seed and only four points clear of ninth-place Los Angeles. Havlat hasn't played since mid-December because of a torn hamstring.
Right Wing - SJS
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 15
SOG: 62 | +/-: 8
Havlat is targeting a mid-March return, which should give him three weeks to get acclimated with his teammates as the postseason beckons. He had only two goals (but 15 points) in his first 26 games with the Sharks.
San Jose certainly could use another impact forward, especially one who adds a jolt of speed to the team's top six. That's precisely why Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson traded for him this summer, and adding him again in March will help solidify the Sharks as a contender in the West. Wilson has plenty of acquisition space to make another move if he wants, but Havlat's return likely would be the biggest move for San Jose.
Alexander Steen, Blues
-- Steen has not played in 2012 because of a concussion. His hockey-card numbers -- 13 goals and 24 points in 36 games -- are nice but not extraordinary. Delve a little deeper, though, and Steen's value to the Blues becomes quite clear.
He's been on the ice for 3.54 goals per 60 minutes this season at even strength, which is tops among forwards on the team. Steen has also been on for just 1.26 goals-against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 play, which is third among the team's forwards who play more than fourth-line minutes. Most importantly, the difference between those figures is 2.28, and Steen leads all NHL forwards who have played at least 20 games this season in that department.
Essentially, when Steen is on the ice his team has a greater advantage in goals scored than against per 60 minutes than any team in the League. What's more, Steen is the only member of the Blues ranked among the NHL's top 20 forwards.
It is a stat that tends to favor lines, not just individuals. For example, there are six Bruins, three Red Wings, three Rangers and three Canucks in the top 21. (Havlat's value also shows here -- he is the only San Jose forward in the top 38).
Teams win games at even strength in the playoffs, and a return to good health for Steen could be a boon for the Blues, who might not be interested in mortgaging young assets to supplement the current roster anyway.
Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley, Bruins
-- When the Bruins were healthy, they possessed two of the most productive lines in the League, plus an above-average third line. Then Horton went down with a concussion and Peverley moved to the top line to replace him. Then Peverley was injured and Boston's strength in numbers up front was no more.
Peverley has a defined timetable -- somewhere between mid-March and the end of the regular season -- but Horton's return is to be determined. Remember that he missed the second half of the Cup Final in June because of a concussion as well.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has plenty of acquisition space to use if he wants. A couple weeks ago the prevailing logic was the Bruins could use a veteran defenseman and maybe an upgrade on the third line. Now, he might need to address the holes at forward first.
If Horton and Peverley return in time, the road to the Cup still runs through Boston in the East. Chiarelli might need to make a bigger move than expected if Horton's season is in doubt.
Travis Zajac, Henrik Tallinder and Adam Larsson, Devils
-- The Devils are hot right now, and have passed Philadelphia for fourth place in the East. It has been even more remarkable that they've done this without three key figures -- their No. 1 center and two of the top four defensemen.
Center - NJD
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 3
SOG: 16 | +/-: -2
For the Devils to be a contender in the postseason, they're going to need Zajac. It's possible to cover for him right now, but in a seven-game series against teams that have centers like the ones in Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York, the Devils would be outmatched without Zajac.
He missed the start of the season because of an Achilles' tendon injury, and after returning for eight games had to stop because of soreness in that spot. At one point earlier this month the Devils expected him to start skating and be ready in a month, but his return to the ice has been delayed.
The defense corps probably already needed a boost, as Larsson's back and Tallinder's blood clot has left the team even thinner on the blue line. There is no timetable for Tallinder's return, but Larsson is expected back soon.
Curtis Glencross, Flames
-- Glencross hasn't played in more than a month, but he's still tied for second on the team in goals with 18 and third in points with 33. The Flames are 7-2-3 in his absence, but they have scored two goals or less in seven of those 12 games.
Calgary hopes to have Glencross back by early March. The Flames currently are eighth in the West, but their 65 points are the same as ninth-place Los Angeles. The Flames have other injury woes, and do not have a lot of cap space to work with. Getting a scorer of Glencross' quality healthy to complement Jarome Iginla
could be the difference for the Flames in their quest to make the postseason.