As the Canucks have dealt with a bevy of injuries, one has flown under the radar. Sven Baertschi hasn’t played since taking a hit to the head during a game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Baertschi has missed five games so far and there has been no word from the Canucks as to a timetable for his return.
“Sven is recovering very slow so far, it's going to take a while,” said Baertschi’s agent, Andre Rufener, which is concerning, as this isn’t Baertschi’s first concussion.
Last season, Baertschi took a blindside elbow to the head from Cody McLeod. The hit was well away from the puck, but no penalty was called on the play and the NHL’s Orwellian-named Department of Player Safety determined it was an “accidental collision” and declined to fine or suspend McLeod.
Likewise, when Tomas Hyka hit Baertschi in the head from behind, there was no penalty, nor was there any supplemental discipline. Baertschi had no chance to protect himself, as he was hit from behind, and the hit was, as Baertschi said on the ice, “Right in the f***ing head.”
It’s been easier to notice the absence of two top-pairing defencemen and two centres, so it’s understandable that Baertschi’s injury has been overlooked. While the Canucks have been able to maintain a winning record with Baertschi out, there is one key area where they clearly miss him: the power play.
That might come as a surprise, but Baertschi has been a big contributor on the power play for a couple seasons now. Last season, he was fourth on the Canucks in power play goals behind Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Daniel Sedin. That’s notable, because Baertschi was scoring from the second power play unit and, when you took into account ice time, actually led the team in goals per hour.
So, when the Sedins retired, they were replaced by two players: the star rookie Elias Pettersson and Baertschi. The new-look power play unit clicked almost immediately, with Pettersson getting much of the credit, but Baertschi deserves a nod in his direction as well.
With Baertschi in the lineup, the Canucks’ power play this season is 6-for-25, a conversion percentage of 24%. Without Baertschi, it’s 3-for-19 (15.8%) and the first power play unit hasn’t scored a single goal 5-on-4.
There are two issues with looking at the power play this way. One is that Alex Edler has also been missing during the same timeframe as Baertschi, so it’s tough to separate his contributions from Baertschi’s. The other is that we’re talking about very small sample sizes.
Still, it’s clear that Baertschi has played a major role in the power play’s success.
Of the Canucks’ six power play goals scored with Baertschi in the lineup, Baertschi scored two of them and had the primary assist on two more. The only Canuck that has been more involved in scoring plays on the power play is Elias Pettersson. We can take a look at a few of those scoring plays and see how Baertschi contributed.
Baertschi doesn’t get an assist on this play, but it’s his setup to Horvat off the rush that leads to the penalty kill scrambling. Pettersson takes advantage with a one-timer from Edler.
You’ll also notice where Baertschi is as the play starts. On zone entries, he’s on the left wing and often ends up planted on the blue line, providing a passing option. That’s a standard setup for the Canucks on the power play, but few on the Canucks perform better in that role than Baertschi, as his ability to control and quickly move the puck allows for cleaner zone entries and setups. The Canucks have struggled on power play zone entries with Baertschi out of the lineup.
This is the other power play goal on which Baertschi didn’t get a point, but you can see how involved he in the puck movement leading up to the goal. His vision and passing is underrated and part of what makes the power play work when he’s on the top unit.
Here’s a great example of how Baertschi helps on zone entries, as he deftly takes the pass and evades the first penalty killer. He then provides a great setup for Horvat off the rush, akin to the first play above.
There’s nothing wrong with getting a little lucky, of course. Baertschi might have been trying to tip this puck to Horvat, but instead got a fortunate bounce off a Hurricanes defender.
The goal by Pettersson is obviously ridiculous — that shot is nigh-unstoppable — but it was Baertschi’s pass that gave him the time he needed to freeze the penalty killer and beat James Reimer. Baertschi fished the puck out of a battle along the boards and made a great cross-ice pass. The penalty killers’ sticks prevented him from putting it in Pettersson’s wheelhouse for a one-timer, but it still set up a great goal.
Finally, there’s Baertschi’s second power play goal, where he sneaks in the backdoor and pounces on a bad rebound from Braden Holtby off a hot shot from Boeser.
It certainly helps that Baertschi had an open net, but he also makes sure, catching the puck off one bounce and raising it in case Holtby stretched across with the right pad. It’s a great finish on a goal that only required a good finish.
Looking at just these six goals isn’t definitive, by any means, but it seems fairly clear that Baertschi provides a necessary ingredient to the Canucks’ power play. He has the skill and vision to help the Canucks gain the offensive zone and move the puck quickly to create scoring chances.
Baertschi has been at his most effective on the power play when in the slot. That position requires a player with a high hockey IQ that can read when to rotate up to the point to support the defenceman, rotate down low to cycle the puck, or join a board battle to win the puck back. Just like no one has been able to adequately replace Edler at the point, the Canucks don’t have anyone that has been able to replace Baertschi in the slot.
At times, the Canucks have even tried Boeser in the slot, with Nikolay Goldobin on the left side, but that arrangement plays away from Boeser’s strengths.
Until the Canucks can find a way to make the power play effective without Baertschi and Edler, they’ll just have to pray for their quick return.