VANCOUVER – If Dan Hamhuis misses Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, there is no doubt it will represent a huge blow to the Vancouver Canucks. His poise with and without the puck and his ability to provide a calming influence are attributes that tend to come in very handy at this time of year.
But for a team that used 13 defensemen during the regular season and has used nine so far during this year’s playoffs, adapting to an injury on the blueline is nothing new to the Canucks. GM Mike Gillis certainly didn’t build this team single-handedly, but his decision to invest a ton of cap space into his defense corps was a stroke of genius – and may very well turn out to be the one that puts the Canucks over the top and make them Stanley Cup champions.
Legend has it that Gillis looked at the Philadelphia Flyers blueline in last year’s playoffs and decided his team needed more depth of talent on the back end. So it’s no coincidence the Canucks are second only in cap space devoted to their top six defenseman ($22.3 million per season) to the Flyers ($23.18 million).
That decision will pay off handsomely for the Canucks if Hamhuis misses Game 2 with the ubiquitous “lower body injury.” (He hurt his ankle, but don’t tell anyone because the Soviets might find out and then we’d all be up a creek.) It will almost certainly mean that coach Alain Vigneault will slide Keith Ballard into that spot.
The disruption to their defense corps likely won’t be much of a disruption at all. In fact, the Canucks played exactly one game – the last of the regular season – with what was supposed to be their top-six corps of Kevin Bieksa, Hamhuis, Sami Salo, Alex Edler, Ballard and Christian Ehrhoff. The group played the first four games of the playoffs before injuries began to hit again.
“Obviously you prefer not to have injuries, but we’ve had them during the regular season,” Vigneault said. “We’ve just dealt with them. We’ve done the same thing in the playoffs. So nothing’s going to change.”
Ballard is the most likely candidate to replace Hamhuis because of his experience and the fact that, like Hamhuis, he is a left shot. Ballard acknowledged it has been difficult for him to watch as a healthy scratch – and it’s certainly not what the Canucks envisioned when they traded for him and his $4.1 million cap hit last summer – but he realizes the Canucks have all kinds of depth on the blueline and intends to make the most of his chance if he gets it.
NO COMPLAINTS OVER BURROWS “BITE”
Good on the Bruins for not making a big deal out of the fact that Alex Burrows of the Canucks escaped supplemental discipline for his supposed bite on Patrice Bergeron’s finger in Game 1. Teams have made a bigger deal in the playoffs over things that were much less serious than this.
(But, really, did anyone expect Burrows to be suspended? After some of the egregious acts of violence we’ve seen this season and in the playoffs, does anyone really think the league is going to suspend a guy during the Stanley Cup final for leaving a tooth mark in another guy’s finger?)
Both Bergeron and Bruins coach Claude Julien said they were content to leave the decision up to the league and were eager to put the incident behind them.
“We’re not the type of team that whines and cries about things like that,” Julien said. “We just move on and that’s what we’re going to do.”
CREASE CONFUSION OVER TIM THOMAS
There has been some jostling on and off the ice when it comes to Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. The veteran stopper has always been an aggressive stopper and bumped with a number of Canuck forwards outside his crease in Game 1. But both teams had different views of what the ramifications should be.
“Ninety percent of (Thomas’s) saves are where he’s outside the blue paint,” Vigneault said. “A lot of times he does initiate contact. That’s the way he plays. We said (Wednesday) night that we’re going to look to get a little bit of clarification on certain situations.”
If Vigneault needs clarification, Julien said all he has to do is consult the rulebook.
“The rule is pretty clear,” Julien said. “You’re entitled to your ice. If he steps out and he’s got that ice, he’s entitled to it. If he’s entitled to it, then afterward I don’t think people are entitled to run over those guys.”
That’s pretty much the way Thomas sees it, too.
“I have the right to go anywhere in open ice and if I get set, I have the right to that ice,” Thomas said. “I also have the right-of-way to get back to the crease. That’s the way I understand it.”
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