VANCOUVER — Leaning against a dark blue cement wall adorned with a Vancouver Canucks logo in the bowels of Rogers Arena, club president Trevor Linden reflects upon his team as it approaches the midway point of the regular season.
There’s the Canucks’ surprising start, the play of red-hot rookie sniper Brock Boeser and the avalanche of injuries that have contributed to a recent stretch of two victories in 12 games to send Vancouver tumbling down the standings.
Linden uses the word “challenging” a number of times during the impromptu media availability, especially with regards to the Canucks’ current slide that began a month ago when No. 1 centre Bo Horvat went down with a broken foot.
“I look at the positives,” Linden, Vancouver’s former-captain-turned-executive, said Wednesday. ”(Rookie head coach Travis Green) had come in and instilled a system that was really conducive to our group.
“The way our team played was fun to watch and the results were relatively good.”
And he’s right about that.
Looking like a team that might be turning a corner after missing the playoffs two straight years, the rebuilding Canucks were 14-10-4 and sitting third in the Pacific Division when Horvat limped off against the Carolina Hurricanes in early December.
Checking centre Brandon Sutter was already out with a hip/groin problem that still hasn’t healed, but Vancouver was getting by. Then one of Hovat’s wingers on the top line, Sven Baertschi, went on the injury list a few games later with a broken jaw before top-pair defenceman Christopher Tanev also found himself on the shelf with a groin issue.
With so many key pieces out, the Canucks’ structure began to come apart at the seams, and coupled with the inability of goalies Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson make key saves — or often even simple ones early in games — Vancouver is in a 2-9-1 tailspin with its 41st game set for Saturday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
“It’s been challenging the last bit,” said Linden. “The results the last month have been frustrating for me, for our fans.
“I think we can be better, but there are some positives based on what’s happening here and around our organization.”
While most teams would be hard pressed to stay afloat with that many injuries, Horvat’s was the turning point for a franchise that remains thin on elite-level talent. The 22-year-old signed a big-money deal before training camp and had finally overtaken aging stars Henrik and Daniel Sedin as the club’s catalyst before going down.
Vancouver is now 16-19-5, good for second-last in both the Western Conference and the division, and nine points out of a wild-card spot. It’s hoped that Horvat will be back sometime around the all-star break, but it could be too late.
“If there was any doubt of (Horvat’s) importance, I think we’ve seen it in the last month,” said Linden. ”He plays in all situations and we have definitely missed his contributions.
“But at the same time it’s part of the game and team’s go through it and you’ve got to figure out a way around it.”
The 20-year-old Boeser has done his part, leading both the Canucks and all NHL rookies in goals (21) and points (38), with his exceptional shot and vision turning heads across the league.
“As much fun as it’s been for our fans and for you guys to watch, it’s been as fun for myself sitting there watching him on a nightly basis,” said Linden. ”When you see a player that’s that smart, has that sort of skill level and is able to shoot the puck like that, it’s just fun to watch. Those are special players.
“We’re watching something pretty special from a young player right now.”
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press