How much can the Coyotes rely on Martin Hanzal?

Dec 18, 2015, 5:28 PM | Updated: 10:18 pm
Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) battles with Arizona Coyotes' Martin Hanzal (11) during the fi...

Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) battles with Arizona Coyotes' Martin Hanzal (11) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Raleigh, N.C. The Hurricanes won 5-4. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

(AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Martin Hanzal hasn’t played more than 65 games in a full season since 2009-10. Over the past five-plus seasons he has missed 113 games, an average of almost 22.6 per season when you combine the 48-game lockout season in 2012-13 with the 31 games the team has already played this year.

For much of his career, the problem has been Hanzal’s balky back on which he has had two surgeries, but the current injury is an unspecified lower-body injury that has sidelined him the past four games. He also missed two previous games with a lower-body injury.

We don’t mention these numbers to question Hanzal’s willingness to play through pain. We mention the numbers to note that missing a significant amount of games in six straight seasons is more than fluke. It’s a trend. Hanzal plays hard minutes and injuries may simply be a reality of those minutes and his style.

Hanzal is vital to the Coyotes’ success and his absence has underscored that. Arizona is 1-4-1 without its big centerman this season and the team misses him in every phase of the game.

How much is Hanzal’s importance to the club diminished, however, when you factor in the fact that he misses, on average, about a quarter of every season?

“You don’t go into the year thinking you’re going to miss (games),” coach Dave Tippett said. “I’d rather have him play 82 games. That’s the mindset you have to have going in but you also recognize there’s past history. You have to be realistic about it, too.

“We’re a better team when he’s in there but injuries are part of what you deal with.”

Any team will diminish when it loses one of its best players, but in an ideal situation, the Coyotes roster would have enough depth to at least overcome Hanzal’s loss, if not replace him.

Thursday’s game was a telltale example of the Coyotes’ shortcomings in that area. Arizona played without Hanzal, goalie Mike Smith, wing Anthony Duclair and defenseman Zbynek Michalek, but Columbus was without top center Ryan Johansen, top goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and its top two defensemen (Jack Johnson and David Savard), yet still beat the Coyotes.

“Every organization gets injuries. You have to have depth to overcome that,” Tippett said. “That’s just what you have to build into your organization.”

Hanzal practiced on Friday. Provided he has no setbacks, he expects to be back in the lineup against the Islanders Saturday at Gila River Arena. Given the center position’s deficiencies, the Coyotes are praying he stays in the lineup, even if history tells them otherwise.

“It’s frustrating but I’m glad its not my back because that’s always my biggest issue,” Hanzal said. “It was just a lower-body injury and there’s nothing wrong with it any more so I should be OK.”

Islanders at Coyotes

When: Saturday. 7 p.m.
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM

Injury report: Coyotes — G Mike Smith (abdomen surgery) and F Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are on IR. D Zbynek Michalek (lower body) is out. G Anders Lindback (illness) is questionable. C Martin Hanzal (lower body) is probable. Islanders — F Kyle Okposo (lower body) and G Jean-Francois Berube (lower body) are out.

Scouting the Islanders: New York has dropped two straight since a 7-0-1 stretch vaulted the Islanders into second place in the Metropolitan Division. … F Kyle Okposo is the Islanders’ leading scorer with 26 points (eight goals) in 33 games, but he won’t play. C John Tavares leads the team with 13 goals (23 points). … Former Coyote Thomas Greiss is playing well as a backup and has nearly as many starts as Jaroslav Halak. Greiss is 9-4-2-1 with a 2.03 goals against average and a .933 save percentage.

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How much can the Coyotes rely on Martin Hanzal?