The Canucks lost their best player and the league’s top rookie when Brock Boeser was felled by a blocked shot, and the injury has all but ended Vancouver’s hopes of a playoff push.
The Vancouver Canucks started this season as a fascinating little yarn, an overachieving team with a new coach who had the temerity to force the torch to be passed from the team’s franchise players to a group of youngsters. And for a while they were winning games. But in reality, we probably all knew it was going to come to an end sooner or later.
Instead what has happened is that end has been thrust upon the Canucks, not giving them a real chance to see how good they actually could be this season. Would the Canucks have made the playoffs even if they had been 100 percent healthy? Probably not – although they went into their game Sunday night just four points out of a playoff spot after a much-needed overtime win over the San Jose Sharks last Friday night – but it would have been fun to find out.
But now, whatever hopes the Canucks had of making the playoffs in 2017-18 almost certainly circled down the drain last night when Calder Trophy frontrunner Brock Boeser dragged himself off the ice after being hit in the foot with a Mark Giordano shot. It didn’t look good. Not at all. And now, neither do the Canucks’ prospects of having their first rookie of the year since Pavel Bure 26 years ago.
Boeser’s agent Ben Hankinson said Monday afternoon that his client was in a fair bit of pain and was scheduled to have an MRI done on his foot today.
And of course, the injury came on a blocked shot and don’t get me started on that. Brock Boeser should never, ever be blocking shots. It’s one of the most overrated facets of the game and, if the example Boeser provided on the Giordano shot, one of the most poorly taught. As Howie Meeker would say, “Stop it right there!” Watch the precise moment Giordano unleashes his snapshot. Boeser, who is playing the point on the power play and is skating backward to protect the zone, pulls a ‘flamingo’ and lifts his right foot at the last second. Had he simply stood his ground and kept both his skates on the ice, the shot almost certainly would have harmlessly hit him in the shin pad. Because of the culture of hockey that celebrates under-protected players getting in the way of shots that goalies have a better-than-90-percent chance of stopping, though, it was either tentatively stand in the way of the shot or risk being branded a soft player.
Stupid shot-blocking culture.
The shame in all of this is that Boeser was not only the Canucks’ best rookie, he was their best player. For example, of the 17 goals Boeser has scored this season – a mark that leads all first-year players by five – 11 of them have either pulled the Canucks into a tier or put them ahead in a game. Consider that there are only four players in the NHL – Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames with 13 and Anders Lee of the New York Islanders and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lighting with 12 – who have more goals in those situations (shootout goals not included). Four of those goals have put the Canucks in the lead to stay.
So if Boeser is out long-term, the race for the Calder Trophy would be once again be wide open. After starting the season on fire, Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes has cooled off considerably, while Mathew Barzal of the Islanders, Alex DeBrincat of the Chicago Blackhawks and Yanni Gourde and Mikhail Sergachev of the Lightning are beginning to make things very interesting.
Kind of makes you think the Canucks are cursed this season, starting with Derek Dorsett being forced to retire in a season when he was on pace to put up career numbers. And with Bo Horvat, Brandon Sutter and Sven Baertschi – who coincidentally had his jaw broken by a Giordano clearing attempt – preceding Boeser on the Canucks’ injury list, well, that’s simply too much for any team’s depth to endure, let alone one that’s as depleted as the Canucks.
So in a season when Canuck fans could have at least clung to the fact that they had the Calder Trophy winner, now they have a whole lot of nothing. Unless, of course, you take the macabre view that losing all those guys long-term will drive the Canucks lower in the standings and give them a better standing for the draft lottery.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.