Blueline takes direct hit with Edler forced to sit
‘Tired’ team will open gruelling road trip in Philly on Tuesday with suspended star on sidelines
San Jose Sharks’ Tomas Hertl loses his helmet as he collides with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Alexander Edler during the second period of an NHL game in Vancouver on Thursday October 10, 2013. Edler has been suspended for three games for the infraction.
Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS
For the third time in seven months, Vancouver Canuck defenceman Alex Edler has been suspended for an illegal check. The difference this time is he will be missed.
The National Hockey League on Friday banned Edler for three games for his shoulder to the head of San Jose Shark rookie Tomas Hertl during the Canucks’ 4-1 loss Thursday at Rogers Arena.
Anyone shocked by the suspension has been paying attention to neither the NHL nor Edler.
You cannot hit an opposing player in the head. Period.
It doesn’t matter that Edler’s elbow was down and arm tucked against his body. It doesn’t matter that Hertl had his head down and was dangerously mesmerized by the puck as Edler approached. It doesn’t matter that Edler was trying to make a legal check, almost certainly did not target Hertl’s head, and delivered the hit without venom.
Unless Abraham Zapruder filmed the incident from an angle we haven’t seen, Edler got his angle wrong and made contact with the side of the Shark’s head.
“Aside from his helmet popping up into the air,” NHL justice minister Brendan Shanahan explained during his reality-TV appearance, “Hertl’s reaction to this hit – getting spun, rather than being driven in the direction Edler was travelling – reaffirms our view that his head is the main point of contact.”
End of story. Three games — because Edler is a repeat offender.
The NHL suspended him two games last March for a largely unavoidable collision with Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith. That Edler also was suspended two months later by the International Ice Hockey Federation for a dangerous knee-on-knee hit that knocked Canadian Eric Staal out of the world championship is irrelevant to the NHL.
But Hertl’s health is extremely relevant, and Edler’s latest suspension would have been worse had the Sharks’ forward been injured. That would have been worse for the Canucks, too, because Edler has been among their best two defencemen this season.
The Swede has three points and is minus-two, but his ice time average of 24:56 leads the Canucks. The blue-liner’s mobility and aggressiveness is allowing him to flourish under new coach John Tortorella.
It hasn’t received much notice amid the many stories that have swirled around Tortorella’s Canucks like mobile-home siding in a tornado, but Edler’s strong pre-season and elevation of play so far has been one of team’s most positive developments.
After a terrible playoffs in 2012, Edler struggled for consistency last season. The Canucks won the two games he missed, including a 1-0 win on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. Team Sweden went on to win the world title without Edler, who still must sit out his country’s first two games at the Olympics in February for his hit on Staal.
But it’s extremely unlikely the Canucks will run the table without him now.
The Montreal Canadiens visit tonight, and Vancouver begins a difficult seven-game road odyssey with contests in Philadelphia and Buffalo next week.
The Canucks have struggled in all but one of five games so far, and Tortorella leans even more heavily on his best players than did former coach Alain Vigneault. Presuming Tortorella replaces Edler with Yannik Weber, a spare defenceman and former Canadien who has been logging 4:32 a night as a fourth-line forward, the blue-line is being downgraded.
It will be in full crisis mode if Kevin Bieksa, second in time on ice to Edler at 22:53, is unable to play against the Canadiens. He required medical treatment Thursday after blocking a shot. Edler also was limping noticeably after the game.
No wonder Tortorella decided his team needed a day off Friday, the Canucks’ second in five days.
One week into the season, the Canucks played without much energy or spark against the Sharks. They lost nearly all races to the puck and weren’t very competitive battling for it.
Tortorella said the Canucks were “out-quicked.” The lethargy was inexplicable to players, who said it was far too early in the schedule to be tired.
But after Tortorella’s gruelling training camp, maybe the skating demands of the Canucks’ new go-go-go system are already being felt.
Pivotal forward Ryan Kesler has been invisible the last two games, and Jannik Hansen has disappeared since leaving the top line.
Including injured winger Alex Burrows, the Canucks have seven forwards who have averaged at least 17 minutes a night. The Sharks, Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings have only four forwards each playing that much.
Captain Henrik Sedin, averaging 21:14 TOI, said early in the Canucks’ transition that the new system requires more skating because players start deeper in the defensive zone and pursue the puck and checks far more aggressively in the offensive end. He loves the aggressiveness of the system. But has it drained the energy tank already?
“Absolutely not,” assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said Friday. “I attribute our performance Thursday to playing for the fourth time in six nights – with travel. We were tired, but not because of our system.”
He refused to comment on the NHL ruling against Edler.
“He’s our No. 1 defenceman; how do you replace that?” he said. “But we acquired Yannick Weber to give us depth and some options.”
None of them remotely as good as having Edler in the lineup.
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