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It was hard to watch Erik Karlsson go down yesterday after his Achilles' tendon was lacerated, and it's not good for the fate of the Ottawa Senators this season. But the good news is that most NHL players are able to bounce back from these injuries and continue productive careers without lingering effects on their play.
Erik Karlsson's Achilles' tendon was lacerated last night in a game between the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It wasn't an intentional act by Matt Cooke, but it was careless. Further investigation revealed that the laceration was not a complete severance, but Karlsson's going to require surgery, and the rehabilitation period will keep him out for at least the rest of this season.
You've all seen the video already, but here it is again:
It's bad news in the short term for the Ottawa Senators. The season isn't necessarily over--there's still a slim possibility that, with continued heroics from Craig Anderson and increased production from the team's many rookies, the Sens can make the playoffs--but it's pretty darn close. Jared Cowen's injury hurt the team. Jason Spezza's hurt them worse. Erik Karlsson's is probably enough to finish the job. For the season, anyway.
But the good news (if it can be called such) is that history tells us that Karlsson should be fully able to return to fine form despite this injury. It will be a long and arduous rehab stint, no doubt, but based on accounts of similar injuries to NHL players, he'll be fine. If the surgery and rehab go well, Karlsson may even be back in time for training camp next season.
Below are the tales of seven players who've suffered torn or lacerated Achilles' tendons in recent history. As per Dr. JoNana, there is likely little difference in terms of the healing time or rehab required between the two, so we can assume that it's not an important detail. What's important are the prognoses I've gleaned from these accounts.
Way back in 1994, Teemu Selanne had his right Achilles' tendon lacerated and missed most of the 1993-94 season as a result. While it's true that he was never able to replicate his 132-point rookie season upon returning, I feel like that's got more to do with the game than with any lingering effects of the injury. Especially since Selanne remains an extremely productive player in the game even at 42 years old, and is just two years removed from an 80-point year. Prognosis: No lingering effects.
In the last lockout-shortened season of 1994-95, Dean McAmmond also suffered a laceration of his Achilles' tendon. That happened on Feb. 25 of that season, and McAmmond was able to return for the start of the next year (McAmmond believes the healing was at least in part powered by God). His play went to another level post-injury, culminating in a 51-point season in 2001-02 with the Calgary Flames. Prognosis: No lingering effects.
More recently, Robert Lang went through the same thing as Karlsson, and it was also in February. Lang missed the rest of the season with Montreal, but was able to return to action with Phoenix to start the next season. Although Lang's production dropped in that final season with Phoenix, it would be difficult to pin the blame on his Achilles' injury; he saw less ice time on Phoenix and they were a lower-scoring team. Prognosis: Unclear.
Two years ago, Jason Pominville suffered an injury under very similar circumstances to Karlsson's: The skate blade of an opponent (James Van Riemsdyk) sliced his Achilles' tendon, and he required surgery to repair it. Pominville missed the final two playoff games of 2011, but was able to return to the lineup for the beginning of the next season, apparently without ill effect: He scored 73P in 82GP last year. So far this year, he has 14P in 14GP, a career-high production rate if he can sustain it. Prognosis: No lingering effects.
Oddly, two former Senators defencemen have tore their Achilles' tendons during off-season training: Sami Salo in 2010, and then Andrej Meszaros in 2012. Salo feared his career might have been over, but was able to return to the lineup for the team's final 27 games of the season. His production was off for that first year back, but rebounded to expected levels last season and he's playing quite well this year. Meszaros suffered his injury in August and was able to return to the lineup for the season opener--a five-month layoff that may been extended by the lockout--but is currently out with an unrelated injury. Prognosis: For Salo, no lingering effects; for Meszaros, TBD.
Travis Zajac is another player who injured his Achilles' tendon during off-season training and required surgery to repair it. After suffering the injury in the summer of 2011, he rushed his rehab and returned to the lineup in December--too soon, it turned out, and he missed another three months of hockey after that eight-game stint in December. He didn't re-injure the tendon, but needed to take extra time in order to strengthen and rehabilitate the area. Although his regular-season production has waned (just 3P in 13GP this season), he was a monster in the playoffs last season (14P in 24GP) and his team obviously isn't nervous about his long-term health: They just signed him to an eight-year, $46M contract extension. Prognosis: Little to no lingering effects.
So there you have it. Of the seven players examined, there was no long-term damage to the careers or production levels of five, while another remains to be seen and the final one is too unclear to safely draw a conclusion. Given Karlsson's age and fitness level and the reality that this type of surgery can typically be fully recovered from, it's not remotely inconceivable that Karlsson will be back in time for training camp next season and will be as effective then as ever.