The Vancouver Canucks have won four of their last five games, which has made it easier to ignore that the team’s biggest star hasn’t played in any of them.
Elias Pettersson has missed five games and will likely miss four more because he didn’t join the Canucks on their current road trip. Canucks head coach Travis Green didn’t exactly confirm that in his pre-game media availability, but he was a notable omission, along with Jay Beagle, when Green said that Antoine Roussel and Tyler Motte were with the team on the road trip.
Barring a private jet and an exemption from the NHL, Pettersson won't be playing this week. The earliest he could return is the Canucks' next home game on March 22.
While the rest of the team has been able to step up in his absence — Brock Boeser emphasized the team’s “next man up mentality” — it’s clear that the offence has struggled without Pettersson. The Canucks have just four goals in their last three games and just one at 5-on-5.
A shifting timeline
The initial report from Green was that Pettersson had an upper-body injury and was day-to-day. On March 8, Green said he hoped Pettersson would return within the week. The next day, he said that Pettersson would be out for another week. Now it appears that has become at least two weeks with no timeline given for his return.
In a different environment, the media could potentially press Green on the details of Pettersson’s injury, but the distance afforded by the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol means it’s easier to be evasive. That said, the Canucks played injuries close to the vest last season as well, frequently refusing to give firm timelines for when players would return.
To a certain extent, this is understandable — there’s always some uncertainty over injury timelines — but hockey is the only major sport that is allowed to be so vague about injuries. Some even argue that the NHL’s lack of a policy around revealing injuries actually hurts players, as it promotes secrecy and encourages players to hide injuries. It can also lead to endless rumours and constant questions that openness and a firm timeline would avoid.
What's wrong with Pettersson?
So, what exactly is Pettersson's injury and how did he get hurt? Who knows?
The first indication something was wrong is when Pettersson left a March 4 practice. According to Canucks GM Jim Benning, Pettersson initially was injured on March 1 but played another game after.
“He got hit and banged up a little bit the first game in Winnipeg,” said Benning. “He played the second game and tweaked what he had going a little bit from before. So he’s day-to-day and as soon as he’s 100% healthy, he’ll get back playing again.”
That was during Benning’s March 5 press conference and got somewhat overshadowed by the rest of his comments that day. Besides, at the time Pettersson was just supposed to be day-to-day and no one was overly concerned.
But now it has been 13 days since Pettersson last played and it will be at least 7 more days before he plays again.
The stat sheet from the Canucks March 1 game against the Winnipeg Jets records two hits on Pettersson. The first from Josh Morrissey seemed pretty incidental, a minor piece of contact along the end boards as Pettersson chased down a dump in.
The second hit, from Mark Scheifele, was a bit more stiff, but Pettersson didn’t miss a beat and stayed on the ice for his entire shift.
If Pettersson was injured on one of these hits or at some other time during the game, it didn’t cause him to miss any ice time. He played 17:15 in that game, just a little under his season average, which is understandable as the team was defending a multi-goal lead and Pettersson typically gets less ice time in those situations.
Similarly, even if Pettersson tweaked this injury in the next game on March 2, he still played close to his season average in ice time. In fact, he played more in the third period in that game than he did in the first or second period, so if he was hurt, it clearly didn’t seem serious.
It’s almost more worrying that Pettersson’s initial “day-to-day” prognosis has become at least three weeks. On the other hand, it’s good that the Canucks don’t seem to be rushing Pettersson back into the lineup. Hopefully, whatever part of Pettersson’s upper body that is injured gets the rest and recuperation necessary to fully recover.