EDMONTON - It got to ridiculous proportions.
To a point where it became dangerous for the Edmonton Oilers to cross the street.
The team lost a franchise-record 530 man games to injury this year, and had nine players out of the lineup for their season finale in Anaheim on Sunday.
“Every year it progressively gets worse,” said defenceman Tom Gilbert. “You think it’s gotta stop some time or progressively go down. If I had answers to why we had so many injuries, that would make things easier. Staying healthy has been an issue here, but I don’t really know what to about that. Do you block less shots?
“It’s frustrating, because some of the injuries are fluke. Some are just guys getting hit blocking shots. That’s part of the game, you can take those injuries, those are going to happen. But it’s just those freak injuries, someone hurts a knee, the swine flu, a guy gets mono, I don’t know what it is, we were catching everything.”
The Oilers lost the services of starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, leading scorer Ales Hemsky and defenceman Sheldon Souray for extended periods of time.
Due to the injuries, the club was forced to go deep into their minor-league cupboards, which were thin to begin with.
“At the end of the day, with the man games we lost due to injury, that put us in a spot where the onus was on the guys who were supposed to be in the development part of the organization," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn.
"They maybe didn’t have that level of ability, physically, and more importantly, mentally, with what it takes to win.
"That’s what we ended up working with, and I feel we made some headway with that segment of our team. They’re the ones that have to get stronger.”
The Oilers will be reviewing their conditioning and travel practices heading forward to see if there’s any way they could prevent some of the injuries that occurred this season.
They got a new fitness consultant this year in Simon Bennett, who replaced Chad Moreau.
“It depends who you’re talking to when it comes to asking how the team trained prior to coming into training camp,” Quinn said. “We tested and I didn’t like some of the test scores in our training. I didn't think we had a good base in some of the areas like the aerobic side of it on a team basis. I think that started to show up in our third periods when we needed to be strong.
“The way we trained in the off-season is a question. You need to train those systems in the off-season and try to maintain them and then think about the other issues when we start. Four years ago they made a change in the person that leads training and since that time, the spike started to come in the injury levels. That’s just an observation. That may be legit or it may not
be, but we have to look at it and see what we’re doing.”
The Oilers travel practices will also be reviewed. Last season under Craig MacTavish, the team often practised before boarding a plane and travelling. This year they travelled, then practised at the destination.
“We’ve done studies going way back into the ’80s with idea on travel time,” Quinn said. “There are a lot of things that come into play with evaluation. We tried to implement that here. 530 games are alarming. This needs to be looked at it in depth.
“Some of our guys have their own feelings. When we were going through two time zones, I said we were going to travel and practise or have an off-ice workout just to get the wheels turning. That was based on legitimate studies that have been done in the past.”