Vancouver Canucks: Derek Dorsett’s hockey career has ended

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Derek Dorsett
ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Derek Dorsett /

It’s a sad day for the Vancouver Canucks and Derek Dorsett. Concerns over his health in the future have forced him to retire from the game that he loves.

Derek Dorsett will sadly have to hang up his skates. Yesterday morning, the Vancouver Canucks had announced that Dorsett will not return with the team due to concerns of his health and the risk of him continuing to play.

Per the Canucks’ press release, the doctor who performed the cervical neck fusion surgery, Dr. Robert Watkins had this to say after evaluating Dorsett:

"“The latest evaluation of Derek’s neck revealed that he’s sustained a cervical disc herniation adjacent and separate to his previous fusion,” said Dr. Watkins. “Given his current condition and the long-term, significant health risks, I advised Derek not to return to play.”"

This is tragic news for everyone involved in the Canucks, most of all to Derek Dorsett. His teammates and coach were saddened by the news and spoke highly of Dorsett’s character and value to the team. Players around the league such as Kevin Bieksa offered kind words as well.

Before I continue to talk about Dorsett, I want to show you his statement after hearing the news.

I’m with Derek on this one. It has been hard for the news to sink in and it took some time to process it all. As Dorsett said, he has a young family to look after and his health is the most important thing to worry about in his life.

We take a lot of things for granted in life. Not just as hockey fans, but as ordinary people. It’s not what you want to hear, but Dorsett should be given the chance to live happily and in good health, even if that means he needs to sacrifice the game he loves playing.

Living the dream in the NHL

Humility is such an underrated quality. I don’t think there are as many players that truly appreciate the privilege to play in the NHL quite like Derek Dorsett. He gets to play in the greatest hockey league in the world. On top of that, he is paid a couple million dollars a year to do it.

This is an opportunity that is available only for the few who are good enough to make this league. The NHL dream comes with the price of potential injuries and grand expectations. In a Canadian market like this one, those expectations are ramped up exponentially.

It’s no secret that I have critiqued Dorsett, the rest of his teammates, the coach, the guy who runs the team and the man that signs the paycheques for the Canucks. I have said before why I don’t like fighting. But I’m glad that Dorsett doesn’t let it bother him, unlike other players in this league.

Derek Dorsett is not the most talented player, or the flashiest. He is a role player, but to me he is more than that. I think it would be lazy to classify him as an enforcer. Personally, my definition of an enforcer is the huge guy who plays four minutes a night, so he can go out and fight someone and do nothing else.

There is much more to Dorsett’s game. Fighting may be a large part of the equation, but hockey has so many physical aspects to it. Board battles are where much of the physicality happens. Fights and hits are small snapshots during the game, but the boards are where the war is won for a checking line.

And that’s what Dorsett has another strength. We don’t expect him to score a lot of goals. However, Dorsett made many offensive contributions in the first 15 games. The marquee shutdown line and the penalty kill were comfortable homes for Derek Dorsett.

Whatever Dorsett was doing was working. Connor McDavid could not score against this line. The Washington Capitals had trouble scoring against this line. Who knows? Derek Dorsett may have this immeasurable psychological effect against the opposition. It’s pure speculation, but if we romanticize hockey, it does make for a compelling story.

Dorsett was not afraid of any challenge

That’s part of the fun in being a fan, right? The stories we can tell after the fact. Some people like that aspect of sports journalism the best. You want to have someone to root for and it’s easy to get behind a warrior like Derek Dorsett.

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Fiction loves to see the underdog triumph and I’m sure people gain a sense of satisfaction when Dorsett can “prove the nay-sayers wrong.” I guess it depends on your field of view and what your time parameters are when you tell that story.

Derek Dorsett was never afraid of a challenge. He took on players who were bigger, taller and stronger, but didn’t even blink. Dorsett even filled the classic Don Cherry archetype by not wearing the visor, so his opponents don’t break their hands on his helmet. He even protected his opponent’s head if either slipped and fell to the ice.

That’s a heart and soul player, if I ever saw one. It really speaks to the quality of his character to put that much consideration towards the guy he is punching in the face.

No player deserves to have their career end this way. I get it. You can argue that his physical style of play and his frequency of fighting likely contributed to his career-ending injury. But that doesn’t take away the fact that Dorsett had more courage than anyone out on that ice.

During The Canuck Way Awards, I talked about perseverance and determination, both of which Dorsett has in spades. When he had his surgery, people wondered if he would alter his play style to avoid injury. He said he would not change a thing and he was true to his word.

What this will mean for the Canucks

This news is also devastating for head coach Travis Green. Dorsett was a huge part of his successful shutdown line and knowing that he won’t return will be a big blow for his lineup. However, if you checked out my article on the best shutdown line for the current active roster, you’ll see I suggest Loui Eriksson be used in a defensive role.

Related Story: Analyzing the best shutdown line

When Brandon Sutter is healthy, Eriksson may take Dorsett’s place on that line with Markus Granlund. However, Jim Benning may be inclined to trade for someone like Derek Dorsett. I would not be a fan of this route since the Pittsburgh Penguins had overpaid with a first-round pick and a prospect to acquire Ryan Reaves.

Dorsett’s role is important, but not enough to throw away such an important pick. There are other places where Jim Benning can find someone who offer some of Dorsett’s services. This includes the waiver wire, free agents that could be playing in Europe or even calling up someone from the Utica Comets. I believe all those options are superior to pursuing a trade.

Yesterday afternoon, the Canucks tweeted this, suggesting they won’t replace Dorsett.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, this news is heart-breaking. Like I said before, you never want to see someone leave the game this way. Despite the sad news, I appreciate the attitude Dorsett has. I am glad he is proud to live the NHL dream.

It is incredible to hear him leave it all on the ice. Dorsett was absolutely correct when he said he “gave his heart and soul” out there. It’s the kind of guy Dorsett is. His surgery last year was surrounded with uncertainty. We were not sure if he would start this season.

Then, he recovered and looked no worse for wear in the preseason. The first 15 games were somewhat of a Cinderella story as Dorsett was leading the team with 7 goals. Unfortunately for Dorsett, the clock struck midnight during the current road trip when he started to feel stiffness in his neck.

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Some part of us knew that his neck injury would likely compromise his career. But even though it has, this is one hell of a way to leave hockey behind. Dorsett will leave on the highest of notes. From everyone at The Canuck Way, we wish Derek Dorsett all the best, wherever his journey takes him after hockey. Thank you, Derek.