EDMONTON - Oilers equipment managers Jeff Lang and Brad Harrison were busy men Thursday, answering players' questions and providing a display to the curious media about protective socks after an incident occurred last night in Pittsburgh.
Ottawa Senators defenceman, 22-year-old Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson underwent season-ending surgery this morning to repair a 70-percent tear in his Achilles tendon.
In the second period of the game between Ottawa and Pittsburgh, Penguins winger Matt Cooke attempted to pin Karlsson against the boards as they both raced for a loose puck in the corner. Cooke's left leg came down and made contact with Karlsson's left calf, dropping the Swedish defenceman to the ice in obvious pain as blood came pouring out.
Karlsson could not put any weight on the leg as he skated off the ice with the help of concerned teammates and the club's medical staff. As a result, he's done for the season and will be on the shelf for up to four months.
"It's a freak occurrence but it can and does happen from time to time," said defenceman Nick Schultz, who agreed a play of that type happens several times per game. "It should be a lesson for everyone that there's little things that can help and protect you from some of those things so they don't happen often. It's something where a lot of guys take it (safety) for granted sometimes.
"They have Kevlar socks and sleeves that you can put there to protect yourself from that. Our skates are so sharp and when you look at the force guys can come down with, it's no surprise that this had the consequences it did. It's pretty scary."
Two Oilers (Ben Eager and Chris VandeVelde) are the only players currently wearing the Kevlar socks. Eager wears normal cotton socks and slips the Kevlar sleeve over top before putting on his skate, while VandeVelde has knee-high, dual-function Kevlar socks that are basically impenetrable.
"The Kevlar ones are a little thinner and I usually prefer to wear a thicker sock," said Schultz. "I'm not terribly comfortable with the Kevlar socks, but it basically acts as a barrier that protects your Achilles and your calf. There seem to be a lot of options out there."
A similar play happened to Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa during the 2007-08 season when he collided with Vern Fiddler of the Nashville Predators. His Achilles tendon was not damaged, but he did suffer a serious laceration to his calf muscle. That injury was far less severe, but did keep the rearguard out of action for over a month.
Andrei Markov, Robert Lang, Teemu Selanne and even ex-Oiler Dean McAmmond (in an incident that occurred at Rexall Place several years ago) have all experienced similar injuries in their careers.
In a shortened, 48-game campaign, an extended stint on the IR could have a devastating impact on any team -- not to mention the way in which the player's career could be threatened.
"It all comes down to personal preference, like everything when it comes to what hockey players wear," said Schultz. "It's also about what guys are used to, because most players don't like change. The idea of having a sleeve over top of my regular sock seems like a good one and it could help. And if guys already wear thin socks, you can just go to the Kevlar ones and not notice any difference. It almost has to come from the teams where that eventually becomes mandatory.
"I don't know if they're going to (make it mandatory), but with serious injuries like that there's always some discussion about it. When concussions starting becoming a big issue, we switched to different elbow pads and the cap had to be softer than it was previously -- same with the shoulder pads and things like that. Older players that have worn the same equipment forever had to change and that's a difficult thing to do for certain guys. It's tough adjusting to new gear.
"It's hard to prevent those injuries. Who knows if (Karlsson) had those on if it would have prevented it or not. It's hard to know. When a decision is made to help increase player safety, it's about the players and the League working together to create a solution. It's hard to know if this will spark something, but it could. That wouldn't be a bad thing."
Schultz will be considering the switch to Kevlar socks. Sometimes it takes a serious incident to spark the light bulb -- such as Ryan Jones, who will now be wearing a visor for the rest of his career after nearly losing an eye in an off-season training session in Minnesota.
"Just like Jonesy," laughed Schultz. "It was my second or third year in the League and I got clipped right below the eye with a high stick. It cut me pretty bad and I started wearing a visor right after that."
Ryan Smyth was a healthy scratch in Tuesday's game vs. Dallas, but it's quite possible the longtime veteran will be back in the lineup on Saturday.
"I'm a competitor," said Smyth, who's collected a goal and an assist in 12 games this season. "Absolutely, it's tough to take. It's in our nature to play hockey. That was the coach's decision. That was the decision he made. He felt it was best for the team.
"We'll move forward."
"When a player is out, there's always going to be a reason for it. And we tell them that reason," added Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "This is a very experienced NHL player that has a lot of hunger in him. We're expecting a strong reaction from him. He knows what he needs to do to help this team."
Justin Schultz left practice after about 20 minutes with a "spasm," according to Krueger. It's nothing serious and the rookie is expected back on Friday.
Ryan Jones participated in contact drills for the first time this season. Krueger expects No. 28 to "be available" to the team by mid-to-late next week.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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