Over the last four seasons, as the Canucks have found themselves outside the playoff picture, Canucks GM Jim Benning has returned to a familiar refrain: too many injuries, not enough depth.
It’s a deep well to draw from, simply because the Canucks have indeed had an abundance of injuries. Whether it’s the freak accident with an open bench door that ended Brock Boeser’s season or the cornucopia of injuries suffered by Chris Tanev every year, injuries have been a big problem for the Canucks.
That also means the Canucks injury issues should be predictable, to a certain extent. Expecting a full season from Brandon Sutter or Alex Edler seems foolish at this point; the Canucks need to plan for injuries and have the right depth in place to deal with them.
Every year, Benning has said the same thing: next year, we’ll have the depth. Next year will be different.
This year legitimately looked different. The Canucks added forwards like J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland that would presumably push other talented players down the lineup, making them a stronger team overall. Instead of a player like Sven Baertschi ending up on the third line, however, he ended up shunted to the AHL. He’s still available as depth, in a sense, but not in the NHL.
That said, the Canucks have been pretty healthy overall and haven’t needed to dig too deeply into their depth. That’s why it was surprising to hear Benning invoke injuries when he spoke with the media during the intermission of the Canucks’ loss to the Florida Panthers.
When TSN 1040’s Jeff Paterson asked about the status of Brandon Sutter and Micheal Ferland, Benning suggested Sutter could return soon, while Ferland won’t return until after the All-Star break.
“For me, I’d like to see what our full team looks like, I haven’t really had a chance this year,” said Benning. “Those are two top-nine forwards in the league and to add those guys to our group, it would be nice to have a healthy team and see what our group looks like.”
To be sure, it would be nice to have a 100% healthy team, with no injuries. It’s also not a realistic expectation.
Every single team in the NHL deals with significant injuries. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins this year. Sidney Crosby has been out since November 9th. Their leading scorer, Jake Guentzel, is out for 4-6 months. Nick Bjugstad hasn’t played since November 15th. That doesn’t include injuries to Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, and Patric Hornqvist.
And yet, the Penguins are still solidly in a playoff position and will be getting Crosby back soon. So far, at least, they’ve had the depth to deal with their injuries.
While the Canucks have had injuries, their key players have remained healthy. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, and Bo Horvat have played all 44 games this season. So have Tanner Pearson, Jake Virtanen, Chris Tanev, Tyler Myers, and Troy Stecher.
Quinn Hughes has missed just one game. Alex Edler missed a chunk of games, but he’s back and healthy now, as is Antoine Roussel, who missed the start of the season continuing his recovery from knee surgery.
The Canucks have four players out due to injury right now: Sutter, Ferland, Josh Leivo, and Tyler Graovac. With Adam Gaudette taking over the third-line centre role, it’s not even clear where Sutter fits on the team. Ferland has struggled when he’s been in the lineup this season, so it’s hard to even say if he would improve the team if he was healthy. Graovac is AHL depth. Really, the player they miss the most is Leivo.
Meanwhile, on defence, apart from one game from Ashton Sautner, the Canucks have only had to use their seven main defencemen that started the season on the roster. This is about as healthy as the Canucks’ defence corps has been in years. If they’re struggling defensively, it’s not because of injuries.
Let’s be clear: five of the Canucks six top-six forwards have played every game this season — six of six if you consider Virtanen a top-six forward ahead of Leivo. The Canucks haven’t had to go beyond their top-seven defencemen. When Thatcher Demko was out with a concussion, Jacob Markstrom started every game — they never had to use another goaltender. How much healthier does Benning expect the Canucks to be?
The reality is that even when Sutter and Ferland return, someone else is likely to get injured, perhaps someone more essential to the Canucks’ success.
The Canucks have arguably been fortunate that they haven’t had to deal with more significant injuries this season. Their depth hasn’t been truly tested this season; hopefully, it won’t have to be.