Vancouver Canucks: Can they stay healthy next season?

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 21 : David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins skates against Alexander Edler #23 and Christopher Tanev #8 of the Vancouver Canucks at the TD Garden on January 21, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 21 : David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins skates against Alexander Edler #23 and Christopher Tanev #8 of the Vancouver Canucks at the TD Garden on January 21, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Until the recent losses to Calgary and Columbus the Vancouver Canucks were battling for a playoff spot. With their hopes of a post-season run now surely over, we look at whether the Canucks can stay healthy next season.

According to NHL Injury Viz, the Vancouver Canucks are currently fifth in the table for most man-games lost to injury this season.

All your usual suspects feature: Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Brandon Sutter, Brock Boeser and Sven Baertschi are regulars on the list, and have been joined this season by the team’s presumptive Calder winner Elias Pettersson, summer UFA signings Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel, and a host of other names. Blue-chip prospect Quinn Hughes even joined the Canucks already sporting an injury, which was highly ironic and hopefully not a sign of his career to come.

Such is life for these Vancouver Canucks.

There was a time when the Canucks were synonymous with being a hard-nosed, tough team with players who would play through some rather serious injuries. Of course, those were the days when the Canucks were challenging for Stanley Cups, not wildcard spots, and there is absolutely no honor in soldiering on with a team that has been so decimated by injuries this season.

No blame can be placed on any Canucks player missing time with injuries this season – a player’s first responsibility is to himself and his family, and Canucks fans were spoiled by having such a tough team for so many years.

The impact of concussions

It’s a wonder that Elias Pettersson didn’t miss more time than he did – he is one of five Vancouver Canucks players who have missed time with a concussion this season.

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With around eight games left on the schedule, some 52 players across the league have missed games due to concussions this season; this compares to 44 last season. That’s a large jump, and one has to wonder whether the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is aware of the basic numbers.

To put into context the rising number of concussions, the only Canuck who missed games last season due to a concussion — Sam Gagner — missed one game. Likewise, the season before saw only poor Baertschi pick up a concussion, missing nine games.

No Canucks missed games with concussions in 2015-16, and Tanev missed two games in 2014-15. In total, the Canucks have lost more man-games to concussion this season than they have in the last 4 seasons combined – more than four times as many in fact.

So what can we tell from this? It’s very clear that we have been very unlucky to have suffered so many concussions this season, and that it’s an anomaly more than the norm.

Part of this will be better understanding, and reporting of, concussions and the openness of teams to release information on player statuses. However, one has to expect (and hope) that the Canucks will be more fortunate next season and not see so many of their players suffer a concussion.

Changing of the guard

There will surely be a significant amount of turnover on the playing staff this summer. General manager Jim Benning cannot continue to bring back the same team year after year, and in particular the same defense, and so we will likely see a sizeable influx of new talent to the team. The consequence of this is that many of those regular names we see featured on the Canucks’ IR may well be gone by the time October comes.

Edler is out of contract this summer and, while it’s expected that the Canucks make a play to keep him around, he’s only played a full 82-game season once in 12 years with the Canucks (he didn’t even play the full 48-game schedule in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season). If Alex Edler departs, that’s less injuries on the board next season.

Likewise, Chris Tanev may well be nearing his long-anticipated trade. It takes a Sami Salo-like approach to make Alex Edler look like Superman, but Chris Tanev has not only never played the full 82 games – he’s never even played 71 games. His 70 games in 2014-15 remain a career high, and if Jim Benning does elect to move Tanev for assets to move this rebuild along, then that would also surely makes the Canucks healthier by subtraction.

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The other big question is the future of foundational centre Brandon Sutter, who has missed 45 games this season to guarantee a new career-low for games played.

While Sutter does provide necessary contributions to the team when he’s healthy, the Canucks must surely take a long, hard look at whether the future of this team is best-suited to working around the many injuries of Sutter, Tanev and Edler, and see if going with a younger, albeit more inexperienced core helps coach Travis Green instill some consistency throughout the lineup.

Now, I am not saying that all three players will depart – and, knowing the Vancouver Canucks as we do, it’s likely all three return for next season — but if Jim Benning really wants to make a statement, no bigger statement could be made than moving on from three fantastic veteran players who, sadly, cannot stay healthy long enough to bring this team into playoff contention. It would also see the final two members of the team’s 2011 Stanley Cup Final team depart, forever closing one of the more painful chapters of the Canucks’ history.

Farewell to a fighter

These last few games of the season, as tough as they may be to watch after those two recent defeats, will also mark the official end of Derek Dorsett’s affiliation with the Vancouver Canucks. While being “retired” in all but contractual terms, that contract expires this summer and we will all, I am sure, wish him the very best as he continues to live his life off the ice. His early-season scoring burst in 2017-18 was a joy to behold, and this 2018-19 Canucks team sure could have used his presence on many occasions.

Thanks for the memories, Derek.

This summer promises to be a defining one for many senior figures within the Vancouver Canucks organization. The opportunity to bring about wholesale change to a team that fought a good fight, but still came up short in the playoff race, is too good to miss.

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If Benning can seize the day, make the necessary moves to ice a competitive and consistently healthy Canucks team in October, then a team featuring Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes should possess an excellent chance of bringing playoff hockey back to our great city.