Stanley Cup Health Preview: Vegas Golden Knights

By Dr. Ankur Verma

 

Credit: Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos

Ahhh….the Golden Knights.  Those hungry whippersnappers from Las Vegas are responsible for one of the greatest Cinderella stories in sports history.  Not since the 1968 St. Louis Blues has an expansion team reached the finals of the NHL, NBA, NFL, or MLB.

I confess, I thought the roster GM George McPhee chose at the expansion draft last summer was one of the worst I’ve seen.  I thought he passed on several opportunities for selecting better contributors; I thought his team would be light on scoring and was heavy on mediocre defenseman.  Instead, they were fifth in the league in scoring and eighth in expected goals against, per The Athletic.  They found players that were stuck on minimal roles in other teams that blossomed in more playing time and have a roster full of players either performing or over-performing their contract values.  And that’s without mentioning Number 29 in net.

I’m happy to say that I was wrong.  Las Vegas will surely be rocking with one of the best pre-game theatrics in the league before Game 1 Monday night.

But we care about injuries here, so we’ve put together a Stanley Cup Health Preview.  NHL injury reports are famously tight-lipped and vague, but we’ll do our best to deduce what’s going on and make some predictions.

In this preview, we’ll discuss the Vegas Golden Knights’ injury issues going into the Finals.

William Carrier. (Credit: Michael Miller).

William Carrier

There’s only one injury for Vegas that should be of some consequence in this series and that’s the “undisclosed njury” (per the official NHL injury report) that forward William Carrier sustained and has kept him out since Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinal against the Sharks.

Carrier doesn’t provide much offense (3 points in 37 regular season games and none in 9 playoff games, though his Corsi percentage of 52.9 at even strength is more favorable), but he is a physical presence (as evidenced by his 25 hits in a mere 36 minutes in the first round sweep of the Kings) that would surely come in handy against a Washington Capitals team that has a couple of players that can mix it up.

As for the nature of his injury, let’s see if we can draw any clues.

Much of Carrier’s injury history this year has been shrouded in mystery.

First, he missed a significant chunk of time early in the season for an undisclosed “upper body” injury.  I’ve done some digging, but it’s really unclear what type of injury this was; he missed 16 games from November 28 to January 4th with this injury.

About a month later, Carrier experienced yet another upper body injury, this time against none other than the Capitals. He sustained the injury in the first period, then never returned.

The closest we have to information surrounding the injury is this quote by Coach Gerard Gallant: “He took a pretty good jolt but I don’t think it’s anything serious.”  Uh, yeah.  Gallant was so on point that Carrier was promptly placed on Injured Reserve for the next two months.

The above illustrates the frustrations with analyzing NHL injuries.  There’s so little information provided and what little is publicized is often erroneous.

Luckily, we do have something discrete to work with.  Carrier was activated in time for the playoffs and played in the Knights’ first round playoff series against the Kings.  In Game 1, he was hit on the head by Drew Doughty.

The NHL released a video breaking down the hit.  Carrier left the game and was taken into concussion protocol.  He missed Game 2, but returned for Game 3 four days later.

We’ve written about concussions in the NHL before.  A significant thing to watch out for in concussions is “second-impact syndrome” and it’s a bit surprising that Carrier returned so soon.  While concussion protocols lack consistency across the board when it comes to various sports, it is generally accepted at this time that there is a step-wise progression for determining return to play.  For instance, the last page of this USA Hockey Post-Concussion protocol illustrates that a player must go through increasingly strenuous activities before being cleared for game-time activity.  We are not privy to specific players’ medical information at this site, but it seems a little quick that Carrier was able to move through these progressions in just two days.

He would finish the series.  About three weeks later, Carrier was removed from the Game 5 playoff game against the Sharks.  This time, there is even conflicting information over what type of vague injury he sustained this time.  For instance, one source initially stated that the injury appears to be a “lower body injury”.  Gallant states the injury resulted from “a check behind the net”, but please excuse me if I don’t put much stock into that comment this time.  The same source just recently quoted Carrier as saying that the injury is “nothing major”, while refusing to reveal whether it is an upper- or lower-body injury.  Again, this supposedly minor injury kept him out of one game of the Sharks series and all of the five-game series win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Unfortunately, because of all this vagueness, the only thing we do know is that Carrier was concussed at some point.  So is it possible his symptoms returned after the check Gallant mentioned or never really went away?  Again this is pure speculation, but let’s just investigate this for a moment.

Concussion data for the NHL is in need of further fleshing out.  However, this prospective study by Benson et al found that NHL players from 1997-2004 individually missed a range of 0 to 342 days, with a median of 6 days.

Of course, last year, Sidney Crosby was concussed in Game 3 in the second round of the playoffs, missed Game 4, returned for Game 5 and then had a head-first crash against the boards in Game 6 (and remained in the game).  A whopping 10% of players from the same Benson study continued to play and finish the game and were retrospectively diagnosed with a concussion afterwards, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Carrier

Most concussion symptoms go away in about three months, so it is definitely conceivable that Carrier’s symptoms have lingered.  In a league where sometimes these things seem to slip through the cracks, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Carrier wasn’t completely 100% before returning to the ice.

 

Marc-Andre Fleury. (Credit: Michael Miller).

Marc-Andre Fleury

According to a Pierre Lebrun tweet, Fleury was walking with a noticeable limp after Game 5 against Winnipeg.

Unfortunately, in true hockey fashion, there is no information other than that.  It appears that Fleury has taken some time off and will be ready to go.  True, the previously linked article states that despite skipping practice, he is not dealing with an injury, but we’re all smarter than that at this point by now, aren’t we?

It’s unclear how Fleury got injured during the game.  In terms of Fleury’s lower body injury history, he suffered a high ankle sprain in 2007 that caused him to miss 2 months, but it does not appear that this is an issue right now.

The real question is who Vegas turns to if Fleury misses any time in this series.  Keep reading.

 

Malcolm Subban. (Credit: Michael Miller).

Malcolm Subban

The Knights’ backup netminder missed the last two games of the Western Conference Finals and is expected to be out for at least Game 1 of the Cup Finals.  The cause is unknown and there’s speculation he’s suffering from an illness that David Perron once had.

Throughout the season, Vegas suffered an unprecedented rash of goalie injuries, at one point being down to their fifth-string goalie by mid-November.

Subban has been serviceable this year with a dSV% (how he has performed compared to how an average goalie would perform given the same quality of shots; 0 is average) of -0.21 in the regular season.  However, third string goalie, Maxime Lagace, who has been backing of Fleury the past few games with Subban out, sported an unsightly regular season dSV% of -3.42, which ranked the worst of all goalies who have played at least ten games.

In other words, if Fleury is out for any reason or if that lower body injury gets aggravated, a Knights fan better hope that Subban has recovered from his illness or whatever it is.

 

The IR players

Clayton Stoner, David Clarkson, and Mikhail Grabovski (with a concussion, no less) have been on Injured Reserve all season and will make no impact in the series.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the NHL and the way it makes injury information available, it is tough to draw any solid conclusions for any of these players.  However, we will continue to pry and chip away and examine details and see if we can extrapolate anything.  Thank you for reading this preview.  Vegas vs. Washington.  Should be a fun one!

 

Thanks to Corsica Hockey and hockey-reference.com for statistics.