VANCOUVER – The sun was out, birds were chirping, there was an unfamiliar but pleasant aroma that some claimed was optimism, and people were starting to fall in love again with the Vancouver Canucks. And then the Canucks happened. History happened.
Tuesday’s reverie was broken by news star winger Brock Boeser suffered a concussion the night before when he was shoved head-first into the boards by Ottawa Senators forward Chris Tierney during the third period of the Canucks’ 6-4 pre-season win in Abbotsford, B.C.
Boeser, of all people.
Canucks coach Travis Green said he hopes his best winger will be ready to play in the Canucks’ season-opener next Wednesday in Edmonton. Boeser’s injury not only sets back his start to the campaign but also mutes excitement over Vancouver’s 50th anniversary season in the National Hockey League.
You may have heard, the Canucks are still looking for their first Stanley Cup.
Part of an elite, emerging core on a team bolstered by a series of summer acquisitions, Boeser had three assists in Monday’s tune-up that was dominated by a new-and-improved Vancouver power play.
The 22-year-old looked outstanding in just his second pre-season game since missing the Canucks’ three-day training camp before signing a three-year, $17.6-million contract extension.
“I’m hoping that he’s not out that long,” Green told reporters after the Canucks practised in suburban Burnaby. “First and foremost, we need him back. You’re not going to replace a Brock Boeser. Am I upset that he has a concussion? Yeah, I am. But it’s going to happen in the game of hockey and it does happen. We prepare for the next game the way we would with or without a player.
“We’re not going to just replace him (but) the deeper your team is, the better you are equipped to handle injuries. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there next week.”
General manager Jim Benning traded for winger J.T. Miller in June, then signed in July another potential 20-goal scorer in free agent Micheal Ferland. There’s no doubt the Canucks are better positioned this season than last to absorb a key injury.
But other than top centre Elias Pettersson, no one is more important to the Canucks’ attack than Boeser, who had 26 goals and 59 points in 66 games in his second NHL season despite a slow start last fall that was compromised by his previous injuries and a lack of summer training.
This summer was critical to Boeser because he was fully able to train and get himself 100 per cent healthy. That lasted a week.
“Yeah it is (tough), especially like that when it could have been avoided,” captain-in-waiting Bo Horvat said of Tierney’s hit, which was assessed a minor penalty when the Senators were already shorthanded. “Especially in pre-season, you’re just trying to get a feel, trying to get warmed up for the regular season. These games, they mean something. But at the same time, the regular season is where it counts.”
Facing the side boards after making a pass on the power play, Boeser looked unprepared for Tierney’s shove from behind. Boeser stayed on the ice for the five-on-three, which turned into a goal for Horvat. Green said Boeser felt fine until the last three minutes of the game.
“I think it was an unnecessary hit there,” Canucks winger Sven Baertschi said. “Honestly, it was unnecessary.”
Baertschi missed 56 games in two swaths last season after suffering a concussion on an unpenalized hit-from-behind by Vegas Golden Knights winger Tomas Hyka. He wondered if he’d ever play again.
Ironically, Baertschi is now the obvious choice to replace Boeser in the top six after the additions of Miller and Ferland left the Swiss winger as a projected third-liner to start this season.
“I talked to Brock this morning and it’s going to take some patience, which is tough,” Baertschi said, recalling his own ordeal. “We’re right into training camp and everyone wants to get going, and no one wants to miss too much time. But the one thing is: Take care of yourself and be patient with it.
“There might be things that show up out of nowhere, and you’re caught off guard. That’s part of it. But I think patience and just taking care of yourself, maybe not thinking about hockey for the moment and just really taking care of yourself, I think that’s the main thing for him. He’s already restless. ‘See you at the rink.’ But we’re going to need him in the long run. Just take care of yourself and try to be ready to go when the season starts.”
Boeser was the second Canuck who suffered a head injury on Monday. Depth defenceman Oscar Fantenberg, another summer signing by Benning, left the game in the first period after being crushed on the end boards by Ottawa forecheckers Jordan Szwarz and Scott Sabourin. Szwarz was assessed a boarding major and game misconduct for his hit from behind.
“I thought the first hit was a little bit late, a little bit from behind,” Green said. “I thought the second hit (by Tierney) was more of a hockey play. Like I said, it’s unfortunate. The refs called a penalty.
“I think that one. . . first of all, you’re not usually hitting on a penalty kill. So I think Brock was surprised by it more than anything. He misses training camp, and now he’s going to miss a little bit of time here. Hopefully he’s back for next week. It’s unfortunate, but we deal with it and move on.”
Green has talked about a “top nine” for the Canucks this season, three lines that can score.
But Boeser’s absence may force the coach to consolidate the offensive talent. It may also mean that Miller moves to Pettersson’s line after starting the pre-season well with Horvat.
“I think the guys we added can step right in and fill that void,” Horvat said. “It sucks to have (Brock) out and hopefully he has a speedy recovery and can get back. That top power-play unit looked great last night, so we need him back in the lineup.”
Ferland, who was off ice for three days due to illness, practised Tuesday and should play at least one of Vancouver’s final two pre-season games. The Senators visit the Canucks again on Wednesday at Rogers Arena.