On Wednesday afternoon, before the Dallas Stars game against the Anaheim Ducks, Sean Shapiro of The Athletic reported that Martin Hanzal was going to be day-to-day on the injury report for the rest of the season. Hanzal would play against Anaheim, but would not know if he could play against the Los Angeles Kings until the following morning.
Later that night, Hanzal would leave the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury. After the game, it was announced that he would be returning to Dallas and would not finish the California road trip with the team.
Another game, another Martin Hanzal injury. And in my opinion, this should be the last time that happens. Not because I think Hanzal won’t get injured again, but because the Stars should stop putting him out on the ice.
Hanzal has played in 38 out of 61 possible games, including those in which he exited early due to injury. Excluding Jason Dickinson and Dillon Heatherington (who have spent more time in Cedar Park with the Texas Stars than in Dallas), that’s the fourth lowest on the team, ahead of regular healthy scratches Gemel Smith and Julius Honka (34 and 30 respectively) and Marc Methot, who has only played 20 due to an injury of his own.
But unlike Methot, Hanzal doesn’t have a single injury that’s been keeping him out of the lineup. According to Shapiro, he has had at least 8 different injuries since the beginning of training camp. Some of them might be related, but that shouldn’t matter; the fact is that Hanzal cannot stay healthy.
So I believe the Stars should do what is best for both the team and the player and shut down Hanzal for the remainder of the season. Maybe they can’t put him on LTIR and save cap room since it it’s not a specific injury like Montreal Canadiens defensemen Shea Weber, who was officially sidelined for the rest of the year on Thursday. However, Dallas should at the least scratch Hanzal for all remaining games.
The issue, of course, is that head coach Ken Hitchcock believes the Stars are better with Hanzal on the ice. The team is on the playoff bubble right now and will be trying to make a push for the Stanley Cup in the post-season; it makes sense to play your best players when you can for the good of the team.
But you know what’s not “good for the team”? When the team has to double shift a forward for 40 minutes because an injury prone player left the game early. When the team puts their best winger in Jamie Benn as a center so he feels comfortable in the position for games where that player isn’t on the ice. And constantly shifting the lineup because you never know if that player is going to be out on the ice for the team’s next game.
Maybe if Dallas makes the playoffs, there will come a time when the team’s doctors truly believe Martin Hanzal is healthy. Not “he can skate today” or “let’s see how he feels,” but “we don’t expect him to get injured.” And at that point, Hitchcock should by all means slide Hanzal back into the lineup.
But until then, the team is better off playing Gemel Smith and Jason Dickinson, giving them room to grow and improve the team with their own skill sets, and hope Hanzal will be back for good come next training camp.