A hit during a Feb. 18 game by Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman on Jets center Bryan Little left Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice fuming and saw him ejected from the contest. Less than a week later, it seems Maurice’s anger was more than warranted given Little will be out of the lineup for the rest of the season.
Maurice announced Thursday afternoon that Little sustained “a compression fracture of his T6 vertebrae,” which is located in the mid- to lower-back, according to Maurice.
“It was a significant amount of force to cause the compression fracture,” Maurice said. “We think it’s an eight week injury. Coming off that injury, though, we would expect, because it’s stable — and again, I’m not a doctor — and it’s the big bone of your spine, that once he heals through that process, he should be ready to go.”
The news comes the day after Little was revealed to have been undergoing what Maurice called “a battery of tests,” and said a red flag had popped up. Little underwent tests Wednesday, and Maurice had said Little was a possibility to join the team on their two-game road trip. However, Thursday’s news puts an end to hope Little would be able to return.
Little, 28, had already missed the past two games which was a big enough blow to the Jets. In the two games Little has missed, Winnipeg has lost by a combined score of 8-4. Before falling injured, Little had scored 17 goals and 42 points in 57 games while averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game as the team’s top-line center.
Winnipeg’s playoff hopes were already incredibly slim, but losing Little is likely the final nail in the coffin. Over the past two seasons, Little has been one of the team’s go-to scorers — only Blake Wheeler’s 70 goals and 185 points eclipse Little’s 64 goals and 158 points — and he has been a fixture of their top penalty kill unit as well as the first-team power play.
In his absence, Mark Scheifele has moved from a second-line role into centering the top unit alongside Andrew Ladd and Joel Armia. However, Maurice is likely to experiment with his lineup for the rest of the season, especially post-trade deadline when there’s a strong possibility Ladd will no longer be with the Jets. Winnipeg currently sits 14 points outside of a wild-card spot and are only four points up on the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers.