It was one of the most unthinkable stories of the early season. Derek Dorsett, the Vancouver Canucks winger better known for his pugilism than his puckhandling, kept finding the back of the net.
In the first 10 games of the season, Dorsett scored six times, potted eight points and found himself on pace for a 40-goal, 60-point season. As one might expect, Dorsett’s pace slowed shortly thereafter. He managed only one goal in the next 10 games, but by the 20th game, the 30-year-old, a veteran of more than 500 games, was still on pace for the best offensive campaign of his career.
But following an overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 18, Dorsett hit the sidelines. Almost exactly one year prior, Dorsett’s season had been derailed by disc degeneration in his neck that had plagued him for several years. In order to repair the injury, Dorsett required cervical fusion surgery and, after 14 games in 2016-17, he was sidelined for the remainder of the campaign. And given the seriousness of the injury, the immediate fear when Dorsett came out of the lineup in mid-November was the same injury had flared up and that Dorsett would again be out for the season. Those fears were confirmed Thursday morning, too, but the outcome is worse than most would have imagined.
On Thursday, the Canucks announced that Dorsett “will not return to the Canucks active roster due to health reasons and risks associated with playing,” which sure sounds as though his playing days are through. Per the team’s release, some of the same symptoms that had previously afflicted Dorsett had popped up again, making it necessary for him to seek medical opinions from those who guided him through his past recovery. The opinion of those medical professionals, including Canucks head physician Dr. Bill Regan, was that Dorsett should not return to action.
"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. Richard Watkins, who performed Dorsett’s cervical fusion surgery in December 2016. "Given his current condition and the long-term, significant health risks, I advised Derek not to return to play.”
In the release, Dorsett said he is “devastated by the news.”
“It will take a long time for this to truly sink in,” Dorsett continued. “As hard as it was to hear, Dr. Watkins' diagnosis is definitive. There is no grey area, and it gives me clarity to move forward. I have a healthy young family and a long life of opportunities ahead of me. Hockey taught me a lot and it will help me be successful in whatever I choose to do in the future.”
If this is the end of the line for Dorsett, as it appears to be, he will hang up his skates on a career that has spanned 10 seasons and 515 games in the NHL, during which time he scored 51 goals and 127 points. Before his stint with the Canucks, with whom he played 184 games over the past four seasons, Dorsett suited up for the New York Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Drafted by Columbus in the seventh round, 189th overall, in 2006, Dorsett made his way to the big leagues after finishing up his junior career with the Medicine Hat Tigers, with whom he won a WHL championship in 2007, and one campaign with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
"Derek overcame the odds to make the NHL and play over 500 games," said Canucks GM Jim Benning. "He's an example of what you can accomplish when you persevere. He is a great teammate, a terrific role model and leader for younger players. This is truly unfortunate news for Derek, his family and our team. We will be there every step of the way to support him, his wife Ali and his family as they take the next steps in their lives.”
Dorsett will undoubtedly be best remembered as a rugged, crash-and-bang type winger, and he has the penalty minutes to show for it. Twice he was the most penalized player in the league — 2011-12 and 2015-16 — and, somewhat fittingly, leads the NHL with 74 penalty minutes as of today’s announcement. He also has 131 NHL scraps to his name, including four this season. Coincidentally, when he wasn’t in the box, Dorsett was often at his best on the penalty kill. Five of his 51 career goals came shorthanded and he added four assists while down a man over the course of his career.
"What I can say for certain right now is that I left it all out on the ice,” Dorsett said. “I gave my heart and soul to the teams I played for and never backed down from a challenge, including this one. I am proud of the way I played. It made me successful and a good teammate. Most of all I am truly honoured and grateful to have lived the NHL dream.”
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