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Canucks treating decimated defence corps as a blessing in disguise

Alexander Edler #23 of the Vancouver Canucks controls the puck under pressure from Tomas Kopecky #82 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 2-1 in a shootout.

Jonathan Daniel/2010 Getty Images

For the moment, the Vancouver Canucks are treating their decimated defence corps as a blessing in disguise.

Deep disguise.

The Canucks headed into Thursday's road game against the Nashville Predators with a nine-point lead over the Detroit Red Wings for first place in the National Hockey League's Western Conference, so having a full fleet of defencemen sidelined is not as ominous as it would be for clubs in postseason dogfights. The Canucks are a lock to make the playoffs, and likely won't slide past second place unless struck by an unfathomable skid, so this is hardly situation critical.

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General manager Mike Gillis has consistently said the unprecedented rash of injuries - a half-dozen players have fallen in a three-week span - has given the organization a chance to look at its young defencemen on the farm, and given those players an opportunity to show their NHL mettle.

Indeed, against the Predators, the Canucks dressed three rookies on the blueline. Evan Oberg became the 13th rearguard to see action this season, joining fellow freshmen Chris Tanev and Yann Sauvé, who had played just 13 combined NHL games.

Gillis's tune could change, however, if someone suffers a setback in recovery and is lost into the postseason, or if heavy legs and lost chemistry among pairs plague some of his defencemen come mid-April. After all, Vancouver's top six have not played a single game together this year.

The carnage began on Jan. 24 against the Dallas Stars when Alexander Edler tweaked a back injury, and continued through Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild, when Kevin Bieksa broke a foot while blocking a shot. In that 22-day span, the Canucks lost six defencemen to injury, yet posted a 7-2 record and extended their lead atop the West.

Here's a look at the wounded and when they are expected back:

Alexander Edler

Date of injury: Jan. 24

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Injury: herniated disc in lower back

Return: early April

Status: Edler underwent back surgery on Jan. 31 and has not begun skating. The Canucks are hoping he returns toward the end of the season and knocks some rust off before the playoffs.

Lee Sweatt

Date of injury: Feb. 3

Injury: broken foot

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Return: early March

Status: Sweatt broke his foot in practice during a brief call-up to the Canucks. The team wanted to return him to the minors, but was forced to put him on the NHL long-term injured list.

Keith Ballard

Date of injury: Feb. 7

Injury: mild knee sprain

Return: next week

Status: It was a gruesome injury on the eyes, but mercifully not to Ballard's right knee. He is ahead of schedule and the team expects that he will start practising soon.

Dan Hamhuis

Date of injury: Feb. 9

Injury: concussion

Return: out indefinitely

Status: Technically, the Canucks say he is out until further notice because of the unpredictable nature of concussions. But Hamhuis is back skating, and all signs point to a return next week.

Andrew Alberts

Date of injury: Feb. 14

Injury: broken wrist

Expected return date: early April

Status: Alberts underwent surgery this week and is lost for six to eight weeks. He suffered the injury blocking a shot.

Kevin Bieksa

Date of injury: Feb. 15

Injury: hairline foot fracture

Return: early March

Status: It took two sets of scans before the fracture in Bieksa's left foot was discovered. He should return in ample time for the playoffs.

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About the Author
B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More

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