Hockey injuries in Sochi and their impact on the NHL

With four games left to play as part of the 2014 men's Olympic hockey tournament, NHL owners and general managers are crossing their fingers hoping not to see an injury to one of their key players before the medals are handed out.

However, not all teams will resume play after the break unscathed, as several notable NHL players have either sustained or aggravated injuries while over in Russia. 

Here's a look at those injuries and what they might mean for the player's respective NHL team.

John Tavares (knee), likely out for the season

Easily the biggest injury sustained in Sochi was to New York Islanders forward John Tavares; the 23-year-old suffered a knee injury during Wednesday's quarterfinal match with Latvia, and is expected to miss the rest of the NHL season. 

Islanders general manager Garth Snow was understandably upset after learning the news, saying "it's a joke" and asking whether the IOC or IIHF would reimburse his team's season ticket holders (good luck with that, by the way).

While the injury is certainly a devastating one, depriving the Islanders and the NHL at large the ability to witness and benefit from Tavares' great talent, it probably doesn't mean all that much in terms of the New York's chances for success this season. 

Tavares leads his team in scoring with 24 goals and 42 assists (good for third overall in the league), but last year's Hart Trophy nominee was unlikely to propel his team back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. At the Olympic break, the Islanders sit 12 points back of the second wild card spot and 14 points back of third in the Metropolitan Division, with just 22 game left on the schedule. 

With Thomas Vanek likely to be traded prior to the March 5 deadline, the Islanders appear closer to a high draft pick than a playoff spot, with or without Tavares in the lineup. 

For their sake, hopefully he's ready to go when the puck drops next season.

Mats Zuccarello (hand), out indefinitely

New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello sustained a non-displaced fracture in his hand while playing for Norway at the Olympics. It's not yet known how long he will be out, but prior to the break, the 26-year-old had emerged as the Rangers' leading scorer (15 goals, 28 assists), and ranked third among forward with an average ice time of 17:04.

Further complicating the issue for the Rangers is the Ryan Callahan situation. With rumors swirling that he may be dealt prior to the March 5 trade deadline, a significant injury to Zuccarello may give general manager Glen Sather reason to pump the brakes on moving his captain. And in so doing, he also would risk losing Callahan as a free agent in the summer without the benefit of gaining assets in return.

The Rangers sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division, one point up on the Philadelphia Flyers and three points up on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals. 

Zuccarello's timetable for return, therefore, could have a significant impact on the Rangers' fortunes this season, while possibly impacting the future of the team's captain.

Aleksander Barkov (knee) out 4-6 weeks; Tomas Kopecky (concussion) out indefinitely

Like the New York Islanders, the Florida Panthers are highly unlikely to challenge for a playoff spot over the course of their 24 remaining games. At just 18-years of age, however, rookie Aleksander Barkov was beginning to make a big mark on the team, registering 16 goals and 24 assists while seeing the second-most ice time among all forwards (17:05 per game).

In the big picture, the knee injury suffered in a preliminary game against Norway is unlikely to hinder Barkov's overall career arc, but the Panthers surely can't be happy about the youngster missing out on four-to-six weeks of NHL experience.

As for Kopecky, the 32-year-old had chipped in four goals and eight assists for the Panthers; with one-year and $2.85-million left on his contract after this season, their best hope is for him to make a full recovery from a head injury suffered vs. Slovenia so that he can make a bigger contribution next season.

Either way, Florida can expect to add another top-flight prospect with another high draft pick in June.

Pavel Datsyuk (knee), expected to play on Feb. 26; Henrik Zetterberg (back) out indefinitely

The Detroit Red Wings are an interesting case when it comes to Olympic injuries. Neither of their stars suffered their respective injuries in Sochi, per se; Datsyuk decided to tough it out for Russia on an injured knee while clearly not 100 percent, while Zetterberg aggravated a preexisting back condition that forced him out of the tournament.

It all presents a good news / bad new scenario for the Red Wings moving forward. While Datsyuk is expected to hit the ice upon his return to Detroit, Zetterberg's season is likely over. The latter leads the team in scoring with 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 45 games, while Datsyuk - limited to 37 games due to injury - has 15 goals and 18 assists.

When play resumes, Detroit will find themselves six points back of third place in the Atlantic Division, and one point up on the Blue Jackets, Capitals and Ottawa Senators for the final wild card spot. In a weaker Eastern Conference, it's entirely possible for Detroit to qualify for the playoffs without the services of captain Zetterberg, but it makes the task exponentially more difficult, especially if Datsyuk's knee continues to act up.

It's important to note that there are indeed four games left on the men's hockey schedule, all of which will be hard fought with a spot in the final and medals on the line. It's likely that names will be added to this list and additional teams will be affected; all that's left to determine is who, and how long they'll be out.

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Hockey injuries in Sochi and their impact on the NHL
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