FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Vancouver Canucks began an internal investigation Friday into how the team handled a season-ending injury to winger Tanner Pearson, who hurt his hand on Nov. 9 and was originally expected to miss only 4-6 weeks.
Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford told Sportsnet late Friday that he was unaware that there was any concern about Pearson’s medical care until Vancouver defenceman Quinn Hughes told reporters after Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning that his teammate’s injury “wasn’t handled properly.”
Upon learning of Hughes’ comment, Rutherford said he spoke with general manager Patrik Allvin and coach Bruce Boudreau, and that both were also unaware there had been any concerns with Pearson’s treatment beyond the setbacks in his recovery.
The club announced earlier Thursday that the 30-year-old had undergone another surgery — at least his third procedure — and will not return this season.
“At that point, I just started to gather information and talk to people that are involved and start to do an investigation as to what really happened,” Rutherford said. “Other than that, I can’t say a whole lot because we’re dealing with the privacy of medical information.
“We take the situation very seriously. We certainly have to look at everything here when something like this happens, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Rutherford, who has been conducting scouting meetings with his staff this week in South Florida, said he wants to get together all stakeholders — management, doctors and physio staff as well as Pearson or his agent, Joe Resnick — on a conference call to discuss how the veteran winger was treated after injuring his hand in a road game against the Montreal Canadiens two months ago.
“We want to talk about what happened, the decisions that were made and why,” Rutherford said. “We want everyone involved to have a say and be able to talk to each other and ask questions. That’s very important.”
Pearson played only 14 games this season, mostly struggling and finishing with just one goal. But he is part of the Canucks’ leadership group, popular with Hughes and other teammates, and has only next season remaining on his contract.
Vancouver broadcaster Rick Dhaliwal reported Friday that Pearson currently has a serious infection and may require further surgeries. There is “no guarantee” that he will be able to play next season, Dhaliwal said.
Hughes’ concern and frustration was evident Thursday when he answered a post-game question about losing Pearson for the rest of the season by saying: “I feel bad for him. I mean, it wasn’t handled properly. It’s not really a good situation he’s got there, and hopefully he’s going to be alright.”
Hughes’ remark implied questions about the Canucks’ medical staff, which was largely remade last summer by the new Rutherford-Allvin regime. Several experienced employees, including medical trainer Jon Sanderson, were replaced.
On Friday, Hughes, 23, made it clear that he wasn’t suggesting anyone is to blame for Pearson’s lack of recovery.
“I think everyone wants to see (Tanner) in the lineup,” Hughes said. “He’s been a good fit, a guy that’s played a long time. Anyone that knows me knows. . . I’m a guy that tries my best every game and shows up and cares about his teammates. So of course, I’m emotional just like everyone else. I wasn’t trying to direct blame at anyone. I don’t think it’s really anyone’s fault. It’s just an unfortunate situation. But in a situation like that, of course I care about my teammates and, you know, I hate to see a guy go through hell like that.”
Asked if he has full confidence in the Canucks’ new medical staff, Hughes said: “Everyone’s trying their best and, like I said, that (comment Thursday night) wasn’t directed at anyone. It’s just the reality of the situation that it hasn’t gone well for him. I’ve always had confidence in the staff. It wasn’t about them, just, you know, you hate seeing a guy go through something like that.”
“I will say that I believe that we have a good medical staff and doctor staff, and we will continue to look into what has happened in this situation,” Rutherford said. “We all are disappointed that we have a player that got hurt early in the year and hasn’t been able to come back to play.”
Rutherford said he has not spoken to Pearson about his injury, but that Allvin reached out to the player’s agent on Friday.
Rutherford spent much of the day speaking with Canucks staff, he said, but needs to gather more information before setting up the all-parties summit on Pearson.
The Canucks visit the Florida Panthers on Saturday.