The truth behind the impact of the Montreal Canadiens injuries

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 20: Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates with Jonathan Drouin #92, Max Domi #13 and Brendan Gallagher #11 after scoring a power play goal against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 20, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 20: Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates with Jonathan Drouin #92, Max Domi #13 and Brendan Gallagher #11 after scoring a power play goal against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 20, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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It seems as if the Montreal Canadiens are willing to blame their lack of success this season on injuries, but there’s more to the story.

The Montreal Canadiens have 160 man-games lost this season due to injury. Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin make up the most of it, where the former may finally return to the lineup to take on the Detroit Red Wings. However, there’s been other quality absences in Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, and captain Shea Weber for a stretch.

It’s fairly similar to the 2017-18 season that saw the team miss a number of their key players as well as the playoffs.

Marc Bergevin seems committed to the idea that a healthy lineup would’ve changed the course of the season. That may be true. It’s not to say the Habs without any injuries would’ve had them in a playoff spot, however, it may not have been as bad as it’s been. Drouin was at his peak before going down, and it looked as if his effort was spreading throughout the roster.

Nevertheless, here we are. The counter to the “blame the injuries” debate has already been used. Injuries happen all the time, and the Montreal Canadiens are far from being the only team to get hit by the injury bug. What’s interesting is not the number of injuries, but the impact of said injured players.

The following information comes from NHL Injury Viz (NIV) that looks at the WAR a player brings to the team. WAR is one of the more complicated stats and has been the topic of many debates in the advanced stats world of hockey, but it is interesting in this context. WAR value is the number of extra wins a player brings a team above the number of wins a team would get if they had a replacement player in the roster (e.g. Connor McDavid/Sidney Crosby vs. a call-up on a league-minimum deal).

NIV plotted the WAR of the injured players on each team this season, separating them by position. Based on their metric, the Pittsburgh Penguins were hit with injuries the worst missing the likes of Sidney Crosby, Nick Bjugstad, and Brian Dumoulin. The Montreal Canadiens were 11th.

(Focus on the lower of the two charts)

The season doesn’t fall on the man-games the Montreal Canadiens lost; it was the lack of above replacement level talent they had to fill in the gaps that were the culprit. That can be tacked down to individual performance, but it also goes down to player personnel.

The Habs have been accused of not having enough skill, and it showed during this season. They were a top team in the NHL as far as generating chances but struggled with finding the back of the net. The Ilya Kovalchuk signing helped answer a part of that problem; however, it’s obvious he wasn’t enough.

It also comes down to Carey Price not being his usual god-season-saving self in combination with a shaky blueline at times.

Regardless of what happens by April, it’s not right to blame the entire year on injuries. The NIV chart shows us that other teams have suffered from more significant injuries than the Montreal Canadiens. Of the ten teams ahead of Montreal, seven of them are in a playoff spot, including the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, who are leading the East and West Conference respectively.

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That needs to be one of the focuses when reflecting on the season and looking on into the summer. It’s not about how many injuries the Habs went through; it’s about why couldn’t they breakthrough and succeed anyway.