EDMONTON - There’s a reason Abe Lincoln’s widow sat in the back row the next time she went to the theatre.
And there’s a reason Edmonton Oilers fans are a little nervous that three key veterans aren’t quite ready for pre-season games.
When you’ve been cheering for Team Red Cross the last few years, every little tweak, every little “Hmmmm” from the medical staff, sends a chill up your spine.
And even though they’ve been assured that keeping Ales Hemsky (shoulder), Ryan Whitney (foot) and Shawn Horcoff (ankle) out of the first few games is strictly precautionary, it’s still pretty spooky for an fan base desperate for a break, and not the kind that shows up on an X-ray.
“It’s tough because you look at a lot of the injuries, things like pucks to the feet are things you can’t really control,” said Ryan Jones, who doesn’t know why the Oilers have been hit so hard the last few years, just that there’s nothing you can do about it but cross your fingers. “If it’s groin pulls and muscles, you can say we need to prepare better in the summer, but you look at the injuries we had, shoulder, feet ankles are things that have a lot to do with Lady Luck.”
And she hates Edmonton.
Last year the Oilers had 35 separate injuries and lost most of their best players (Horcoff, Whitney, Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall) for the season.
A year earlier, 44 injuries for a crippling 530 man games lost.
The year before that, another parade to the medical room sewered the season.
“Obviously every team is going to face some adversity over the course of the year,” said Jones. “But when it just keeps piling on top, over and over like it did for us, it’s hard to battle back.”
It’s been a horrible stretch, but it also leaves open the theory that the Oilers aren’t really as bad as they’ve seemed over the last two years. Any team that loses 530 games to injury, or its three leading scorers and top defenceman for the season, will sink in the standings.
“Last year, we were right there, we weren’t that far our of it when all the injuries started happening,” said Horcoff, limited to 47 games last season. “I think we were 9th or 10th when I went down the first time.
“The league is so deep that it’s imperative for any team to stay healthy. You saw Detroit last year, they had some injuries at the end and they slid down. It happens to the best teams. It’s important to everyone.”
If they can stay healthy, the Oilers might be half decent this year. The trick, as they so painfully aware, is staying healthy.
“You don’t think about it,” said Jordan Eberle. “Any time you start thinking about injury you lose that extra step, you start hesitating. Hockey is a game where you have to be 100% fully into the game and if you’re not, especially at the NHL level, you’re going to get beat.”
SAM GAGNER, WRIST
Gagner was reaching for a water bottle on the bench March 9 in Washington when Ryan Jones clipped him with a skate blade, cutting his wrist tendons.
Season done after 68 games.
SHAWN HORCOFF, KNEE/ANKLE
After missing 8 weeks with an MCL injury, Horcoff returned only to be hit with a Magnus Paajarvi slap shot that broke his ankle.
Season done after 47 games.
RYAN WHITNEY, ANKLE
Catches a rut in the Rexall Place ice Dec. 28 against the Buffalo Sabres. A few days later, an MRI reveals a dislocated tendon that will require surgery.
Season done after 35 games.
TAYLOR HALL, ANKLE
Hall’s is playing his best hockey of the season when he drops the gloves with Derek Dorsett of Columbus. He lands awkwardly and ends up with a high ankle sprain
Season done after 65 games.
ALES HEMSKY, SHOULDER
Hemsky is hit into the boards by Nashville defenceman Jonathan Blum and tears the labrum in his left shoulder, meaning season-ending surgery.
Season done after 47 games.