There was a momentary thrill of excitement when Dan Hamhuis flipped Milan Lucic with a textbook hipcheck. It bore a strong similarity to his midseason decimation of the Sharks’ Douglas Murray and had the potential to take Lucic off his game and focus the Bruins’ attentions on abstract concepts like “revenge” rather than the more concrete goal of, well, scoring goals.

That momentary thrill was immediately replaced by concern when Hamhuis dropped to all fours and disappeared inside a scrum. After watering Hamhuis with Gatorade (it’s got what plants crave), the Bruins likely felt like complete tools when he limped to the bench, headed straight down the tunnel, and didn’t return for the rest of the game. This has raised some concerns as Hamhuis likely will not return to the Canucks lineup for Saturday’s Game 2 and is questionable for the rest of the series.

This isn’t the first time this has happened this season. After having minimal injury troubles prior to signing with the Canucks, he missed several stretches with a foot injury and concussions. The Canucks record with Hamhuis in lineup was a fantastic 42-14-8, a winning percentage of .719. Without Hamhuis, the Canucks were 12-5-1, a winning percentage of .694.¬†Difference: negligible.

That isn’t to say that Hamhuis is unimportant to the Canucks’ success. Far from it. Hamhuis has provided a steadying influence on the backend, has been an excellent defensive partner for Kevin Bieksa, and has quietly led the Canucks in shorthanded icetime in the playoffs. On top of that, he’s an all-around great guy, perfectly encapsulating the zen approach of the team this season.

Still, when he missed games with injuries this season, the Canucks were able to deal with his absence. The same is true for every player that missed games with injuries. Heck, just look back to the Western Conference Final against the Sharks. The Canucks lost two defensemen in Game 3, as both Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome were injured on hits by Jamie McGinn. In stepped the much-maligned Keith Ballard and rookie Chris Tanev. Sami Salo stepped into Ehrhoff’s place alongside Alex Edler and on the powerplay and proceeded to score 2 goals and an assist in a Game 4 victory. In the double-overtime Game 5, Ballard and Tanev were relied upon to play over 20 minutes apiece. They did. The Canucks won.

It could be argued that Hamhuis is more difficult to replace than Ehrhoff (a suggestion that would have seemed ludicrous at the start of the season), but the Canucks have enough depth to cover, even in the Stanley Cup Final. Edler is certainly capable of playing a more defensive role partnered with Bieksa, or Salo could step in, though it would be on his off-side. Alternately, Keith Ballard could take this opportunity to play a simpler, more understated game and absorb the extra minutes necessary. If Vigneault isn’t comfortable with Ballard stepping in, he still has Andrew Alberts or Chris Tanev in reserve. Heck, Aaron Rome looked completely capable paired with Bieksa last game. AV is spoiled with options.

What inevitably will happen is that Bieksa, Ehrhoff, Edler, and Salo will see more minutes as Vigneault will lean heavily on them in all situations. It’s happened before; it will happen again. In the past, the Canucks kept on winning no matter who was out of the lineup. Expect the same result.

 

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2 comments

  1. J21
    June 3, 2011

    I’d like to agree, but it’s the Stanley Cup Final and they’re playing a better team than they did most nights when suffering injuries before.

    The main problem isn’t the lack of Hamhuis per se, but the trickle-down effect — similar to what happens with Malhotra out — on the other defenseman who are forced into changing their game to compensate for what is missing.

    It means more minutes for Aaron Rome (which I see as bad in itself, but especially because Vigneault loves him on the penalty kill), more minutes for a frail Sami Salo, and less offense from guys like Ehrhoff and Edler. Just like no Malhotra means Kesler has to go defense-first, and basically that nullifies a lot of the second line’s scoring threat.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 3, 2011

      There’s definitely a trickle-down effect and the Malhotra comparison is apt, but the Canucks have been playing – and winning – without Malhotra for months now. It doesn’t mean Malhotra wasn’t an important contributor, just like Hamhuis, but the Canucks are built to survive such injuries. My point is that they have been doing this all season long. I think the team will still find ways to win.

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