It looks like the Vancouver Canucks will win the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy this season. What suddenly is a mystery is how the Canucks will handle yet another major injury as they enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Canucks can clinch the top seed in the Western Conference if the Detroit Red Wings lose in regulation Monday to the Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2). That will be a small consolation after Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis suffered his second concussion of the season following a collision Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Coach Alain Vigneault said Hamhuis felt better Monday, but he would still follow concussion protocol.
Hamhuis' status for the rest of the season is in question after he collided with teammate Kevin Bieksa and Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash and did not return. Following his first concussion this season, Hamhuis said he would contemplate retirement if he suffered another one.
"Obviously, that (stinks) and doesn't feel good," Bieksa told the Vancouver Province. "Let's hope it's not serious and he's back soon. And let's not read into that (retirement talk) too much. Guys are emotional after a concussion. Give him some time and see how he feels.
"From a hockey standpoint it means the same thing it's meant the entire year. Somebody else is going to play, some guys are going to play more and some guys are going to play more situations." --Keith Ballard
"I felt the impact when all three of us hit, and you know it felt like it was a pretty big force and obviously I feel bad for him and am partially responsible for that. But it's just a hockey play and hopefully it's not serious."
Hamhuis is third on the Canucks in average ice time per game at 22:42 and is their No. 1 penalty-killing defenseman, averaging more than three minutes per game. Even with his concussion problems earlier this season, Hamhuis is second among Canucks defenseman with 63 games played.
The Canucks have been without just about every defenseman they have for a significant amount of time this season -- injuries to Hamhuis, Bieksa, Alexander Edler, Keith Ballard, Andrew Alberts and Sami Salo have been a major reason why the Canucks rank in the top 10 in man-games lost this season.
But the loss of Hamhuis, who signed a six-year contract with the Canucks this summer, could be devastating.
"He's been one of our best defensemen of the year with his steady play both offensively and defensively," Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun. "It's part of the game. It's not our first injury and we're going to play through it."
"I've said it before, you never really see him on the ice and that's a great thing," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "He makes the plays. He's not flashy but you know you're going to get the puck."
It's the second major loss to the Canucks' penalty-killing unit in the past two weeks; they've already lost checking center Manny Malhotra for the season and playoffs because of an eye injury.
So far, the penalty-killing unit has held its own since Malhotra went down. The Canucks have killed off 16 of 19 (84.2 percent) shorthanded chances in that time, only a few percentage points less than what the unit has averaged this season (86.3 percent).
For a team that's battled injuries all season, the loss of Hamhuis is nothing new. How the Canucks handle it in the postseason will be the true test.
"From a hockey standpoint it means the same thing it's meant the entire year," Ballard told the Vancouver Sun. "Somebody else is going to play, some guys are going to play more and some guys are going to play more situations. From that aspect, thus far everyone has done a very good job to get us where we are. We need that to continue."