Why the Sharks brass needs to deal with injuries during the regular season.
Since we're celebrating Heinous Injury Disclosure Day, it's a good chance to review all the brutal medical problems hockey players suck up and play through that would leave most people moaning and trolling for sympathy on TwitterBook. Dany Heatley, for one, had a broken hand for most of the latter part of the regular season. He suffered a groin pull last year, and I had thought his drop-off in points and net play this year was related to that injury. While I realize most of the injuries to Thornton, Clowe, Demers, and Couture occurred in the playoffs, I'm going to use Heatley's hand injury as an example of one of the factors for why we sputter out in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Why letting them play through injury is incredibly stupid
The obvious reason is that the player continues to be injured, and that's reflected in their play. A less obvious reason is that the players further down on the depth chart don't get playing time to jump into that players slot, and force the team to adapt to an injury.
The main reason it's stupid is because standing points don't matter if you're too banged up and broken to play well for an extended period of time. Let me repeat that. Standing points don't matter as long as you're in the playoffs. Detroit knows this. They'll take their core players out during the regular season, and even the playoffs, to heal. Along with that is the expectation that the team and the replacement players will pick up the slack, and they'll get the players back for a further push.
Take a look at the extremely tight Western Conference. Being the #2 seed gave us an outrageously physical series vs. the Kings that caused some of the injuries that helped doom us in the 3rd round. Then we got the #3 Wings, where Clowe got Kronwalled and the rest of the Sharks got further bumped and bruised. The Canucks in the top-seed spot got a tough Blackhawks team, and then the #5 Predators, who played fairly well against Vancouver in a very physical series. The Wings started off against the #6 Coyotes, who probably should have been a tougher opponent than they actually were.
Would the Shark's path have been significantly tougher if we had lost some games during the regular season and ended up as a #3 or #4 or #5 seed? It sure doesn't look like it. If anything, we've done the Blackhawks and Canucks the courtesy of knocking out the Wings in the 2nd round both years. Back east, the #5 Lightning are in the ECF, after knocking out the Penguins and Capitals.
It's a marathon, not a sprint. If a player has a healable injury, take the long view and sit them, even if they say they'll play through it. Then they can come back and make an impact when it counts. Even when they get their playoff injuries, they're not going to be as severe. In the case of Heatley, he may have avoided his twisted ankle if he hadn't been playing with a broken hand that forced him to overcompensate.