When Tanner Pearson broke his hand on November 9 in a game against the Montreal Canadiens, he was frustrated but not overly concerned.
After all, he’d had worse than a broken hand before. In his sophomore season with the Los Angeles Kings, Pearson slid feet-first into the boards during a game against the Winnipeg Jets and broke his leg. That injury ended his season but he didn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of whether he would return to the ice in the future.
“I’ve broken a few bones in my body. One, I missed half a year with,” said Pearson on Saturday. “That one, I went through it the proper way, I guess, it just took that long to heal. I didn’t hit any hiccups.”
From 4-6 weeks to no timeline
To say that Pearson’s broken hand hit some hiccups this season is a severe understatement. An injury that was expected to keep him out four-to-six weeks has instead led to his career potentially being put in jeopardy, as he’s undergone multiple surgeries and now has no timeline for a potential return.
“I'm gonna try to be as positive as I can be,” said Pearson. “Definitely there's timelines in my mind that I would like to hit. And hopefully we do and make everything way better. But it's still such a slow process that does not really have a specific time and date.”
Just two weeks after breaking his hand, Pearson was back on the ice with a stick in his hand. He joined the Canucks on their road trip in late November and skated ahead of games against the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights.
At the time, it seemed like a positive sign that Pearson was skating again so soon after his injury. Things seemed to be progressing well for his return to action. But that’s when things went sideways.
“Ran into a speedbump,” is all Pearson would say on Saturday.
Pearson had to have a second procedure on his hand in early December and there were further complications that led to his season getting shut down for good in January. That's when the NHLPA got involved, and questions were already raised at that time whether he would be able to play next season.
"I think the people that need to know what's going on know"
Eyebrows were further raised when Quinn Hughes commented on the situation.
“I feel bad for him. I mean, it wasn’t handled properly and, you know, it’s not really a good situation he’s got there and hopefully, he’s going to be all right,” said Hughes.
Hughes stating that Pearson’s injury “wasn’t handled properly” prompted an internal investigation by the Canucks. After thoroughly investigating themselves, they discovered that they hadn’t done anything wrong. The Canucks took the unprecedented step of holding a press conference with two members of their rebuilt medical staff, Dr. Bill Regan and Dr. Harry Sese, to defend their handling of Pearson’s case — a press conference where they steadfastly refused to actually answer any questions regarding Pearson's case, repeatedly citing confidentiality and privacy concerns.
On Saturday, Pearson chose not to comment on how his injury was handled by the Canucks.
“I’m not gonna share my personal opinions,” said Pearson. “I think the people that need to know what’s going on know. I’m going to keep it that way.”
As for how he felt about Hughes speaking up, Pearson seemed grateful.
“From a teammate perspective, you love to see a guy stick up for his teammate,” he said.
Two NHL insiders, Elliotte Friedman and Darren Dreger, have suggested that Pearson could file a grievance against the Canucks if he’s unable to fully recover from his injury.
“If he doesn’t have full mobility in that hand moving forward — one hundred per cent mobility — then that is going to interfere with his ability to be a good player in the National Hockey League,” said Dreger on the Sekeres and Price podcast. “If that’s the case, his future earnings are most definitely called into question. That’s where you get the National Hockey League Players’ Association and the National Hockey League involved and that’s where a grievance becomes more real.”
The buzz about a possible grievance, the NHLPA's involvement, the comments from Hughes, and Pearson’s own reluctance to even comment on the handling of his injury leaves questions unanswered. Even if the Canucks’ internal investigation absolved them of wrongdoing, something still doesn’t feel quite right.
What went wrong at the end of November between when Pearson was back on the ice, stick in hand, and when he had to undergo a second procedure on his left hand?
"I'm just trying to go home and be a dad and be with my kids"
As for what’s next for Pearson, he’s heading into the offseason with the intention of preparing for next season, even as there’s no certainty that he’ll be able to play.
“I’m still going to approach this summer like I’m still a hockey player,” said Pearson. “I have to, right? If not, I’d come back really behind the eight ball. It’s gonna be a really, really hard summer — I know that, I’m prepared for it. I’ve started to get back in the gym already. It’s actually nice to get moving again.”
Ultimately, the details of what went wrong, who’s to blame, and whether a grievance will be filed in the future are secondary concerns. What Pearson craves most is a return to normalcy.
“I’m just trying to get my hand back,” said Pearson. “I’m just trying to go home and be a dad and be with my kids and be able to play at the moment. It sucks.”