After an unfortunate rash of injuries, the Canucks got Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard back last night against the Montreal Canadiens. This resulted in one of their worst starts this season as the period of re-adjustment cost them two goals and ultimately the game. With their return though, came no drastic impact. Ballard and Hamhuis are core blue liners with skill sets far superior to their replacements Oberg and Sauve, but their impact is defensive and more subtle.
When you look at the remaining injured blueliners, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler are two of the more prominent blueliners on this team. Bieksa brings and edge to this team which would have surely fought PK Subban. Bieksa isn’t the one I’m worried about though. We’ve managed without him before, we’ve won without him before. As we look at the return dates for our players on the IR, the date on my calendar that’s circled in red is the return of Alex Edler.
As we shift towards and start to gear up for the playoffs – the season that really counts – the injury that’s worrying me the most is Edler’s. The back surgery he underwent has an unpredictable nature with respect to a rehab and return time, but the hope is still there that he’s in the lineup in time for the playoffs.
If you remember back to last season he was the one player that showed up on day one and fought through to the last game. He’s a big game player that elevates his play and leads by example. The impact he’s had on Ehrhoff’s offensive game has also been noticeable, and recently, noticeably lacking. In a West Coast postseason that’s oriented around wearing down the opponent in a three-round battle of physical attrition, Edler’s presence doubles as he’s not only contributing offensively but is a monster physically.
Edler is the key to the entire Canucks defense corps. Since his injury, we’ve seen a drastic decline in play from Christian Ehrhoff, who has struggled of late both in discipline and in offense. His defensive game has taken a hit and that’s in large part due to the absence of Edler. In Salo’s return to the lineup we’ve seen him transition well at a time when the Canucks lost six blueliners in three weeks, but it’s clear he has many more layers of rust to shake off. The point shot he was once known for doesn’t come out to play as much as it used to and his protege, Edler, has developed his sense of calm for quarterbacking the powerplay. Edler’s shot and presence on the powerplay and at the blueline is one that anchors the Canucks defense as he tandems with Ehrhoff to power that first unit.
As for the rest of the defense, Hamhuis is a solid shut down guy and Bieksa has edge. Ballard’s adjusting to a new role on this team but has been defensively solid. Alberts has shown great improvements, and Rome is, well Rome. Tanev’s auditioning for next year’s roster spot, and Sweatt, Oberg and Sauve did just what they were asked to do.
I have no doubt that Edler will step up when the playoffs roll around. Hopefully, he’ll build on last season’s postseason success, come back from injury and lead this team. Hopefully, he continues to develop into quite a phenomenal young blueliner and be integral in the success of the Canucks’ blueline, the powerplay and many other facets of this team that he has impacted with his play.