SAN JOSE- Ever since coming over to the San Jose Sharks in an offseason trade during the Summer of 2011, veteran winger Marty Havlat has had a number of injury issues.
It has been rare to hear a conversation—even between two genuine fans of the 32-year-old winger— without someone making the statement “but, he’s made of glass.”
Injuries have been a prime story throughout Havlat’s career but often overlooked is that from 2008-09 (his last year with Chicago) through 2010-11 regular seasons, the Czech native averaged 77 games played.
Three years in a row without any major injury is nothing to scoff at. It’s not as if he’s never been healthy for a significant chunk of time. Unfortunately though he’s had some incredibly bad luck with freakish injuries since becoming a Shark.
In his first season in San Jose Havlat missed nearly three months when he sustained a hamstring injury simply hopping over the boards to take a shift.
Chances are—knock on wood if you must—that won’t happen to him again.
Furthermore, at the end of his second season in teal, (one in which he played in 40 of the 48 game regular season) Havlat suffered another injury that knocked him out of the playoffs. He ended up having bi-lateral pelvic floor reconstruction surgery.
In other words, he underwent a surgery that few of us regular Joes had ever heard of before. We’re not talking about a chronic knee, wrist issue, or concussion problems with Havlat. Rather we are talking about freak occurrences.
Law of averages would state he’s due for some healthy hockey and the Sharks could certainly benefit from it.
Hockey followers can be quick to forget that not only has Havlat historically been a tremendous playoff performer, but he’s also done fairly well for the Sharks when healthy.
Upon his return in mid-March during 2011-12 Havlat went onto finish the regular season with 12 points in his final 13 regular season games. In the playoffs he added another three points in five games including an OT winner in Game 1 which ended up being the team’s lone playoff victory. Behind Joe Thornton, Havlat was arguably San Jose’s most effective forward in that series.
Flash forward to last season, and not only did Havlat remain healthy for the majority of the regular season, he fit in handsomely with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture on San Jose’s shut-down line down the stretch. Fans forget that Raffi Torres enjoyed much success with Joe Pavelski before being moved into Havlat’s spot due to the injury.
During the final 17 games last year when the Sharks made their playoff push, Havlat picked up 10 points, was a plus-8, and averaged more than two shots per game despite being known as a distributor. Whether you want to pin that success on his linemates doesn’t matter, the Sharks were thriving with him in that spot which only allowed other players better matchups on lower lines.
Case in point, Havlat’s health makes a big difference when it comes to someone like Tommy Wingels. With a 100% healthy roster, the Sharks will be able to afford having somebody like Wingels—currently their third line right wing with 10 points in 14 games— on the fourth line. For example, come playoffs the Sharks forward lines could look like the following:
Tomas Hert—Joe Thornton—Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau—Logan Couture—Martin Havlat
Matt Nieto—Joe Pavelski—Raffi Torres
Tyler Kennedy—Andrew Desjardins—Tommy Wingels
While Havlat has just gotten back into the lineup these past two games, he looks as fast as he has since coming to San Jose. Once known as an elite skater, you wouldn’t use the word fast in his first two years with the Sharks. However, against Phoenix on Saturday night, No. 9 looked to finally be completely healthy.
Havlat wouldn’t admit to comparing his current physical health to previous seasons but he certainly seems rejuvenated and defenseman Jason Demers couldn’t be happier for him.
During one-on-one rushes at Monday’s Sharks practice, Havlat and Demers were seen playfully head locking each other after Demers stalled Havlat’s attempt to get around him. They remained in that position for a couple extra seconds, seeming to clearly enjoy each other’s company.
Afterwards, I asked Demers about the encounter with Havlat and about his reputation as a teammate.
“Obviously I think he’s gotten a bad rap but I think it couldn’t be further from the truth” responded the defenseman. “Ever since he’s been here he’s been great. He’s obviously gone through some ups and downs and some tough times but he’s always been professional on the rink and all the guys love him. I think every team he’s played on everyone’s liked him so I don’t think that’s the case at all. You know I was having a good time with him [today], it’s always fun to see him back out there and bringing that level of skill and enthusiasm back, so it’s fun to have him out there.”
What about how he looked against Phoenix?
“It’s his second game back, it’s going to take some time, he hasn’t played in six, seven months so obviously just like with Brad [Stuart] it take some time, it’s a quick game. But he looked even better than the LA game, he’s making nice plays, and it’s fun to have him on the second power-play, a guy who wants to score and make passes and just put pucks in the net, so it’s been good.”
Of course, chances are a teammate won’t go on record criticizing a teammate out of the blue, but after seeing their on ice interaction and talking at length about him, Demers seemed genuine in his appreciation of Havlat as a teammate.
Based on that conversation with Demers and the fact former Shark T.J. Galiardi credited Havlat for expressing confidence in him last season, seems to me like locker room criticism of Havlat is rather unwarranted.
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