Sports

Norris Division: Will Josh Norris Be Able to Put Shoulder Problems Behind Him?

It’s exactly the kind of news the Ottawa Senators had hoped to avoid this season.

The club announced this week that star centre Josh Norris will be gone long term with a shoulder injury. It could be 3-5 months before he returns, and no one is ruling out the possibility that his season may be over. Norris was injured last Saturday while taking a defensive zone faceoff. It’s difficult to imagine such a serious injury arising from such an innocent looking play.

“(It’s a) different injury than the last one,” said head coach D.J. Smith. “Same shoulder, different injury. Is he going to require surgery or not? We’re in the middle of that right now. We’ll know a little more in the next four to five days but it’s long-term.”

No team wants to lose their best goal scorer from the previous season. Norris scored at a 42 goal pace in 2021-22, posting 35 goals in his 66 games. But the new-look Sens are definitely better poised now to absorb his loss with a far deeper core of skill forwards.

For now, Smith has chosen a plug and play option, replacing Norris with veteran Derick Brassard, who had been a healthy scratch the first five games. That’s likely a band-aid solution and probably not sustainable all season. Long-term, Shane Pinto, who has five goals in his past five games, is far more capable of pulling off a spot-on Norris impression.

In a bigger picture perspective, the thing that has to have the Sens a little on edge is the fact that Norris is injured again, just 5 games into an eight-year, $63.6 million contract. At 23, he’s now injured the same shoulder three times in less than four years and may be staring at the business end of a second surgery.

In January 2019, Norris hurt the shoulder while playing for Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships. That injury required surgery, ending his final season at the University of Michigan. Last year, Norris missed 15 games, after bumping with Andrei Svechnikov and awkwardly smashing the shoulder into the end boards.

“It’s a huge loss, especially in the dressing room,” said teammate Drake Batherson.

“Obviously, Josh is an unbelievable player, but he’s just a great guy to have around. Pretty brutal news. Hopefully, he recovers quick and we maybe see him sometime around the end of the season or even the playoffs.”

This is about the time the whispers begin, laced with words like “chronic,” “recurring,” and “injury prone.” Of course, none of this is on Norris. He clearly did all the hard work over the summer to be at his best for his team. The latest injury comes a few weeks after Norris was named the best conditioned athlete at Senators’ training camp.

Even with a tremendous work ethic, one cannot escape the reality that the shoulder is highly complex – the body’s most mobile, and least stable joint. Opponents in hockey are encouraged to check hard, shoulder on shoulder. And every time a shoulder is damaged, it can be more vulnerable to repeat episodes.

But every case and every person is different. There was a time early in Daniel Alfredsson’s career where fans were frustrated that he couldn’t seem to stay healthy. And now he’s going to the Hockey Hall of Fame next month. Whether Norris faces surgery or rehab or both, all anyone can do is cross their fingers and hope he returns as soon as possible with a shoulder that’s as good as new. After that, it’s up to the hockey gods.

By Steve Warne

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