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Penguins injury update: Bryan Rust out week-to-week

Not great news for the Pens on the injury front (when is it ever?)

Pittsburgh Penguins v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

Coach Mike Sullivan provided an update on Bryan Rust’s status today, the first meaningful update since Rust was injured in the third period of Thursday’s game and was not available to play on Saturday. The update was not a good one.

That provides a handy place for a “Mike Sullivan coachspeak” reminder:

Generally, the tiers go, with translation:

Maintenance day: “I’m giving him a practice off, but we think/hope he won’t miss the next game.”

Day-to-day: “He’s injured and unable to play, but fairly close and we will keep re-evaluating and seeing what the next day brings.”

Week-to-week: “He’s injured to the point where a return isn’t on the immediate horizon.”

Longer-term: “He’s out for a while. Don’t bother thinking about it.”

Says what surgery that happened and says out 6+ months (the worst case scenario, when a player has to have a major surgical produce and is known to be out, likely for the rest of the season/playoffs).

From combing over the data, last season a “week-to-week” diagnosis from the coach typically resulted in a player being out 3-6 weeks, with the occasional exception to the rule in both directions. One time a few seasons ago, Patric Hornqvist was said to be week-to-week and only ended up missing nine days, but he used viking healing powers and motivation to return, so that might not be applicable for most.

For Rust, this is a tough blow. He is in a contract year and could be approaching the open market next summer for the first time in his career. He’ll reach his 30th birthday by that point, which means his next contract will likely be the most lucrative and most important one he signs as a hockey player. Obviously, it goes without saying that there never is a good time for a player to be knocked out with an injury. But for Rust, this has to be about the worst time imaginable. Missing a chunk of the season here probably stops him from hitting a nice round mark like 30 goals or 60 points, and teams tend to give contracts heavily influenced by the boxcar stats of the prior season.

But there still will be a lot of games left whenever he returns to make a case for himself. Rust put up 49 goals in 111 games in the 2019-21 shortened seasons, and played all 56/56 games last year*. But prior to that, Rust has picked up knocks playing 55/69, 72/82, 69/82 and 57/82 in his full-season NHL years. Given Sullivan’s normal timeline, he could be missing a similar chunk of 2021-22 already.

(*Also, how ironic that Rust and Jake Guentzel were the only Pens last year to play all 56 games and already Guentzel has missed opening night on the COVID list, and Rust went down in the second game with an injury. Just another cruel twist of fate for the Pens’ run of injury issues over the years).

For the Pens, given how Danton Heinen has stepped up — including fitting in with Jeff Carter, this might be a loss they can handle. And Sidney Crosby’s return looks to be very soon, which speaks for itself in improving the team and adding a new offensive dimension. Rust going down opens the door for Heinen, Dominik Simon, Drew O’Connor and perhaps Evan Rodrigues to get looks at bigger opportunities then otherwise might have been available. There’s no 25-30 goal scorer to step right in and fill Rust’s shoes, but the Pens should be in position to do what they always have to do and keep moving ahead with the players still available.