The Vancouver Canucks run to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals was a great achievement, even if they didn’t win the ultimate prize. However, the great success of a long playoff run usually comes at a price and the Canucks are learning that the hard way.
Today the Canucks announced that their All-Star and Selke award-winning centre Ryan Kesler had successful hip surgery and will require 10 to 12 weeks of rehab. If you do the math, you’ll realize that Kesler will be doubtful at best to return for the regular season opener on October 6.
But if you go back to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, which took place on June 15, and do the math again you’ll realize it’s been more than six weeks between then and now.
So why did it take so long for Kesler to have surgery?
After all, everyone knew that Kesler was playing hurt throughout the Stanley Cup Finals. It was apparent that he injured himself in the Western Conference-clinching victory against the San Jose Sharks.
But the Canucks management and medical staff thought that Kesler might be able to avoid surgery by putting him on a recovery program combined with some rest. However, a visit to a hip specialist proved that surgery would be the best option in order to avoid any future problems.
Of course, if the Canucks postseason run had ended earlier, Kesler would have presumably started his recovery program earlier. The Canucks would have then figured out that he needed surgery much earlier and the rehab process from that surgery wouldn’t be putting his status on opening night in doubt.
It doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out that a longer playoff run increases the chances of players getting hurt and decreases their recovery time for next season. It doesn’t seem fair that the team that came closest to winning that Stanley Cup without actually hoisting it is now at a disadvantage compared to the other 28 teams that didn’t hoist the Cup.
But that’s the harsh reality of professional sports and there’s nothing that can be done about it. The worst part for the Canucks is that they seem to have been hit by that harsh reality worse than most teams who have been in their position previously.
Not only is Kesler injured and doubtful for the start of the regular season, but several other key contributors for the Canucks also suffered serious injuries during the playoffs that may cause them to miss the season opener as well.
Dan Hamhuis, Mason Raymond, and Mikeal Samuelsson all underwent surgical procedures as a result of playoff-related injuries. Samuelsson’s came in the second round against the Nashville Predators, while Raymond and Hamhuis were both knocked out of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins prematurely.
Raymond’s procedure was the most serious as he needed to repair a fractured vertebra and will likely be out of action until November. Hamhuis and Samuelsson’s status for the regular season opener is unclear at this point, but even if they have to miss time in the preseason it may hurt the Canucks.
Athletes today have such a strict training schedule that being forced to miss workouts and games can result in players falling behind in terms of their fitness level and sharpness on the ice. Everyone is working to improve and get an edge in the offseason and it’s hard to keep up when you’re at a disadvantage before the season even starts.
This is the main reason why many champions and finalists suffer from slow starts the following season in hockey and other sports. It’s usually not because of a so-called Stanley Cup hangover. It’s the fact that the opposition teams get to rest sooner, which means they can start training sooner and become that much better before the start of the next season.
In the world of professional sports, the slightest advantage can make a huge difference in the end results. Fortunately for the Canucks, the absence of one of their best defenseman along with possibly their entire second line is coming at the start of the season and not during the playoffs.
The question is will they be able to catch up to the rest of the NHL once they get back to full health?