Canucks’ Playoff Hopes Hampered by Injuries

In news, but not good news, the Vancouver Canucks have six new players. Perhaps this is good news for the players who’ve been added to the roster, but it’s horrible news for the Canucks.

Gone are Brandon Sutter, Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen, Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, and Thatcher Demko. Without these players, the Canucks lineup is seriously depleted. These are not just run-of-the-mill players — several have been key pieces to the team’s surprisingly strong playoff run.

This was not supposed to be the Canucks’ year. But the emergence of super-rookie Elias Pettersson, Jacob Markstrom’s strong goaltending, the coaching of Travis Green and the player’s buying into a system that focused on speed, work ethic, and showing up strong every game, the Canucks played themselves into playoff position. Recent injuries have probably brought that playoff race to an end.

Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green
Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Several core pieces of the team’s line-up are lost for the Canucks’ playoff push, and it isn’t clear when they’ll return. The Canucks have found some ‘replacements,’ and I wish these players well. However, unless good news is coming that Canucks fans don’t yet see, there’s little chance these injured Canucks will be able to recover in time for a final postseason push.

Here’s an update on the Canucks’ injury crisis, offering the latest news about each player and a note about the impact each injury might have on the team.

Injury #1: Brandon Sutter

Sutter’s injury is listed as undisclosed, and the soonest he will become eligible to return is Feb. 21 against the Arizona Coyotes. The 30-year-old forward already missed 30 games earlier this season with a shoulder injury. He’s played only 26 games this season.

Sutter’s injury impacts the Canucks’ forward depth, although it likely won’t impact the team’s scoring. He has six points on the season and, in truth, he has not contributed much to the team’s success. He has the tools, but his play has been underwhelming (in part, due to his injuries). I wouldn’t be surprised if, once he’s activated off injured reserve prior to the trade deadline, he is traded.

Injury #2: Sven Baertschi

The last word on Baertschi’s injury is that he will be out indefinitely with post-concussion syndrome. Green confirmed that Baertschi hasn’t been well for some time and that his symptoms are related to the concussion he sustained in October from a head-high hit by Vegas Golden Knights’ Tomas Hyka.

Sven Baertschi Canucks
Sven Baertschi, Vancouver Canucks, Nov. 21, 2017. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Baertschi’s injury is really bad news for the Canucks because he’s been a strong contributor to the team’s success and his injury-interrupted season is probably one reason the team hasn’t already cemented a playoff position. Last season, he scored often as part of the second power-play unit and, in limited playing time this season, he and Pettersson created a strong partnership with the man advantage.

Baertschi’s absence also means the Canucks must rely more on Nikolay Goldobin and, Green doesn’t seem ready to engage that option on a regular basis. Goldobin is a scorer, but he doesn’t fit the way Green wants the team to play. I can see him being traded if the Canucks decide their injury situation will keep them out of the playoffs. He might have trade value because every team wants a scorer.

Related: 5 Reasons the Canucks Will Make the Playoffs

There’s a chance Baertschi won’t return this season. Post-concussion symptoms often linger for months following an injury, and this injury has troubled Baertschi since October. The Canucks brought their valuable forward back too early once, but I doubt they would do it again. Sadly, these injuries can end careers.

Injury #3: Jake Virtanen

Unlike Sutter’s undisclosed injury, Virtanen will miss considerable time with a fractured rib. This week, the Canucks released a timeline that he would likely miss the team’s next 13 games. The length of Virtanen’s absence is probably a reason Spooner has been given a chance to resurrect his career with the team. In fact, playing with Pettersson might allow that to happen.

Jake Virtanen Canucks
Jake Virtanen, Vancouver Canucks, Nov. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 22-year-old Virtanen probably won’t see the ice until mid-March, which is another loss for the team.

Injury #4: Chris Tanev

Chris Tanev suffered an ankle injury during the Feb. 13 game against the Anaheim Ducks when Ryan Getzlaf drove him into the boards early in the third period after Getzlaf had already injured Virtanen earlier in the game. There’s no real news on Tanev, however, an update on the often-injured defenseman should be released once a timetable for his recovery is set.

After Edler, Tanev is the team’s best defenseman. The team misses his steady play.

Related – Edler Trade Rumors: Why Don’t Teams Do This More Often?

Injury #5: Alex Edler

Edler has been out with a concussion for about three weeks, after he suffered a frightening injury when his stick got caught in Jakub Voracek’s skate and he lost his balance and fell face-first on the ice during the third period of the Philadelphia Flyers game on Feb. 4. Edler lay unconscious and bleeding beside the Canucks’ goal as players from both teams waved for medical help. He was stretchered off the ice.

Alexander Edler Canucks
Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Fortunately, a CT scan and X-ray didn’t reveal any facial fractures. However, Edler is a veteran leader and their best defenseman. He’s really missed.

Injury #6: Thatcher Demko

Vancouver’s 23-year-old goalie Thatcher Demko suffered a leg injury during the pre-game warm-up of the same Flyers game in which Edler was injured. There’s no word on his current progress, but a Feb. 7 release noted that his knee injury would cause him to miss around 10 days. The injury was called a “slight sprain”.

Although Demko is on injured reserve, he’s eligible to play whenever he’s deemed healthy. The recent space between games provided him several days to rest before the Feb. 21 game against the Coyotes. However, because Markstrom is a solid goalie who can carry the load, Demko’s injury won’t impact the Canucks that much right now.

The Near Future

There’s no word that any of these players are close to returning to the active roster. Edler and Demko have begun to skate on their own. Tanev’s ankle will keep him out day-to-day, but Virtanen’s broken rib is expected to keep him out for still some time. Finally, there’s no word when Baertschi or Sutter might return.

This leaves the Canucks down experienced players and with a huge hole in their defense. Edler and Tanev are the best blueliners the Canucks have, and they’re gone.

Related: Pettersson Is the Canucks’ Best Rookie Ever

Sadly for the team, these injuries, more than any lack of skill, are threatening to erase any hopes the Canucks have of reaching the playoffs this season. I believe the injuries will force them to become sellers. Although there’s no news they’ve adopted that position yet, their rash of injuries make it seem inevitable.

If that’s the case, it would be a sad end to a hopeful season. The six players who weren’t with the team a week ago indicate how the team’s injury crisis has undermined its playoff drive.