VANCOUVER – Just for fun, imagine the Vancouver Canucks fully healthy – you’ll have to think hard because it hasn’t happened since Game 3 – and make a list of their National Hockey League players in order from best to worst.
Now, cross out the guys who are injured.
Don’t worry too much whether you have Bo Horvat or Brock Boeser at the top of the list because they’re both out for now. Defenceman Chris Tanev is probably No. 3. He’s hurt, too. And whether you have injured winger Sven Baertschi ranked ahead or behind Danny and Hank Sedin, he’s somewhere in the top seven.
Some of you may have shutdown (and penalty-killing) forwards Brandon Sutter and Derek Dorsett in the bottom half of your lists, but based on role and ice time under Canuck coach Travis Green, they’re probably both inside the top 10. Top 12 at worst.
The Canucks, in a span of about three weeks, have lost six of their top 10 or 12 players.
Which is why that warm breeze rushing east over The Rockies on Monday afternoon was British Columbia exhaling that Boeser’s injured foot will keep the talented 20-year-old out a matter of days, not weeks.
When the Calder Trophy candidate, who leads the Canucks with 17 goals and 30 points in 31 games, crawled excruciatingly off the ice Sunday and hobbled away after being drilled by Mark Giordano’s shot, it seemed any lingering hope for Vancouver’s season was leaving with him.
But a CT scan Monday confirmed that Boeser had escaped any fractures to his left foot — by far the best injury news the Canucks have had during a dark, bleak December.
“It’s good news that it’s not broken,” general manager Jim Benning told Sportsnet. “I’m relieved because he has been playing so well for us. His shot and his ability around the net to find pucks and make plays and score goals is huge for us. It’s not fractured, so that’s the good news. It’s still a bone bruise and he could be out a little bit. But I’m just glad he’s not going to be out for six or eight weeks.”
The injuries to Horvat (broken foot), Baertschi (broken jaw), Sutter (lower body) and Tanev (lower body) are all long-term. Only Tanev is expected to miss fewer than four weeks. The Canucks hope their seventh injured player, defenceman Erik Gudbranson (upper body), returns soon. He last played on Nov. 22.
Tough luck for the Canucks? Absolutely. They’ve been accustomed to it since they entered the NHL in 1970.
But eight months ago, Vancouver was a 69-point team going nowhere. Until Horvat broke his foot in an awkward solo collision with the boards two weeks ago, the Canucks were 14-10-4 and digging in for a long fight for a playoff spot.
Since then, they are 1-5 and have been outscored 26-6 in the losses. No matter what they say, the Canucks haven’t been close without Horvat and Baertschi and others.
Without Boeser long-term, they’d have had zero chance to stay competitive.
That’s why the sight of him sliding across the ice Sunday was the low point of the Canucks’ season.
“I just thought this can’t be happening,” Benning said. “With the injuries we’ve had so far, like, this can’t be happening.
“I’ve never been a part of teams that have lost this amount of top players. A third of our team is out. No matter how hard you try to plan to have depth in the organization, when you’re six or seven guys down, it’s just too many important players to try to replace. Having said that, the players we have left have to work and compete and be competitive until we get injured guys back.”
It’s stunning how quickly and dramatically the Canucks’ course has changed in a couple of weeks.
With the Montreal Canadiens visiting Rogers Arena on Tuesday, the 15-15-4 Canucks are as near 15th place as the final playoff spot in the Western Conference (four points) and in danger of sinking below .500 for the first time since Oct. 20.
“We had some momentum, our guys were getting some confidence,” Benning lamented. “(But) the players we lost, it’s hard to replace. Until we ran into these injuries. . . we were competitive in every game. We were still competitive when we were missing one or two players, but when you get to six or seven, this is a hard league to stay competitive in.”
Other teams manage it. The Anaheim Ducks, for example, have stayed afloat despite missing titanic centres Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler almost all season.
But the Ducks were a 105-point team last year and are trying to win the Stanley Cup. The Canucks were a 69-point team and are simply trying to improve and build towards something better two or three years from now.
“It just seems like bad luck,” Benning said. “The injuries we’ve had – Sven gets a puck in the face and breaks his jaw, Bo slams into the boards and never really got hit – it’s bad luck. I don’t know what we can do about that. It’s bad-luck things.”
They finally got a good-luck thing on Monday.