Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Is Derek Dorsett’s Roster Spot Safe?

Flashback to October 2016. Derek Dorsett absorbs a hit from the Kings’ Brayden McNabb, which he described as the moment his injury “first came to light.”

In December, the Vancouver Canucks announced that Dorsett would be travelling to Los Angeles to undergo cervical disk surgery, known technically as anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. The complexity of the operation is just as serious as it sounds. Dorsett explained the surgery as follows:

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“They pull the disk out and put a little washer with mesh on the bottom, and they gouge out bone out of my hip and sprinkle it in on that little washer with the mesh. They just pry your vertebrae up and slide that washer in and then release it, and once it releases down, they put a plate in and four little screws holding the C5 and C6 on the front side, and after – I think it’s four months – it creates that fusion.” (Source)

Yikes. For a player who’d undergone serious neck surgery, he sure speaks of it nonchalantly. That speaks to his character. Derek Dorsett would be the definition of a “heart and soul” hockey player. Entering his 11th season in the NHL, he’s established himself as one who would do anything and everything he could to help his team – that’s why he’s valued so highly by Canucks management.

He looked pretty good on Saturday vs LA, especially when one considers that he hadn’t played in almost an entire year. As usual, he forechecked and backchecked with determination, and he threw the body around a few times. That’s the type of game he plays, and that’s the only style he says he can play.

Dorsett wouldn’t be on the team to score goals, and Canucks general manager Jim Benning has said multiple times that he would like four lines that can contribute offence. Could that be a sign that Dorsett may be an odd man out? Perhaps. However, one thing that he brings that this team lacks is grit.

With positive performances from Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen through two pre-season games, it’s looking like it’ll be hard to keep them out of the opening-night roster. Travis Green doesn’t have a lineup set in stone, but with the chemistry Boeser showed with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi last season, don’t be surprised if the trio stays together. Virtanen has played just how fans have wanted him to — physical, while still an offensive threat. He might not be as strong of a lock that Boeser appears to be, but he had a great first game and, should he carry that on for the rest of the pre-season, it would be hard to send him down to Utica.

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One potential scenario would be Dorsett and possibly Virtanen taking turns as the fourth-line right winger. Why split the position? I find it hard to believe Virtanen steals the spot, leaving Dorsett as the 13th skater. Both bring similar styles of play, but Virtanen has more offensive potential, and it’s not even close. Dorsett, however, is a veteran and he brings consistency and hard work to each game. The PTO signing of fellow grinder Ryan White may be an insurance policy in case Dorsett has a setback. Nevertheless, his chances of making the team appear slim with Virtanen already one step through the door.

Contingent on his health, there’s no doubt Dorsett will get his fair share of games this season. The games in China will be important for him to show that he’s healthy and ready to play. If he plays well, we could very well see a split of the fourth-line right winger position. Until then, it’s safe to say Dorsett will remain a key player for the Canucks this season, regardless of it being on a full-time or part-time basis.

  • Boddy604

    If Virtanen’s role is to share a 4th line spot with Dorsett, then Jake needs to be in Utica.

    I’m rooting for Virtanen to make the team cuz he looks like he’s ready so far but not if it’s as a depth guy.

    He needs to develop and that needs to be by being a lock in the top 12 forwards. Whether that’s in Vancouver or Utica remains to be seen but he can’t be a 13th guy who plays 40ish games.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      Agreed, I want Jake to succeed even though I’m skeptical that he will. However, we have enough 4th liners and replacement level guys. If he has a future as anything but a scrub, he needs to be developed with that future in mind. That means playing big minutes in a scoring role, not 8 minutes a night of throwing body checks against the other teams’ 3 defence pairing.

      • TD

        I agree, if the Canucks want more than a fourth liner out of Virtanen, then don’t keep him on. The Canucks to be on the fourth line. Let him develop in Utica. Unfortunately, Virtanen brings speed and physicality that is sorely lacking from the roster.

  • Roy

    Oh, right, “grit”, that quantifiable statistic that we can verify and track for every game. Is that the quality in a player that makes him lose every fight, not contribute points and generally have all the ice-time qualifications as a curling stone? Any words published on this slack-jawed cudgel of a player are words wasted. I was talking to a HNIC producer the other day and he said Green is smarter than is generally assumed – if that is true, Dorsett is a waiver dump. He doesn’t belong in the NHL. And for all you fragile pearl-clutchers that can’t stand critical commentary, just shh.

  • Naslund

    Dorsett is a good team guy. Great. But he’s mostly invisible out there unless it’s the after the whistle stuff. Archibald looks better than him for that type of role. Sure Dorsett will fight anybody, but he usually gets beat up. It’s kind of sick watching the guy get punched in the head every night knowing that he’s one hit away from spending the rest of his life in agony.

    • pheenster

      I like Dorsett a lot and if the rest of the team had half of his work ethic we’d be in a much better place. But the idea of watching a guy who has had part of his neck replaced get punched in the head for entertainment quiet frankly turns my stomach. He needs to call it a career and go do something else. Guy would make a great assistant coach somewhere down the line.

      • Holmes

        Yeah. I like him too. Wish him well but seems like he is taking a hell of a risk by playing. That type of contact with McNabb happens to scrappers like Dorsett 10 times a night

  • Freud

    It’s crazy to sacrifice your health to make money, only to be willing to spend all your wealth to buy back your health when you are older.

    To me, it’s also crazy to describe a father of young kids who continues to put his future at risk, especially when he has millions in the bank already as being a “heart and soul” or character guy. It’d say it’s actually on the selfish side.

    In the end, he can do whatever he likes, but let’s not act like doing “everything and anything” for the team is a desirable trait we should applaud.

    • KCasey

      I can see your concern for a players health and safety and understand how you may think that players should ‘hang them up’ after serious injuries however its also borderline arrogent/ignorant to where the player is at mentally and physically in each individual case. Your in no position to know what Dorsett is capable of at this stage in his career. The doctors cleared him to play and he deems himself physically and mentally capable than all the power to him. Im mean he did only spend his entire life working his tail off getting to this moment to live his dream….sure walk away from that cause you had a major set back. So did Mario Lemiux if im not mistaken as well as Sydney Crosby. Mario even went as far as buying a franchise to make himself GM and signed himself to play lol. When your entire heart and passion is all in on what you love than it takes more than an injury to tear you away from it. Ask Manny Malhotra. Had to literally be pushed out the door and to this day will tell you he is capable and ready to lace them up. Manny had a legitment issue however with being blindsided so mabye not the greatest comparision but non the less the point boils down to pros being pros because of things just like this. They love the game and being in the room with the guys more than any of us could comprehend. I to agree health is a concern but to deem someone ‘selfish’ because of something they have put there everything into is maybe just a tad much. However your concern is in the right place so in the end I cant knock your for that.

      • pheenster

        I recognize that it’s his call and no one can tell him what to do. But he’s a little bit of a different case in that it’s his job to get in fights, many of which he loses. If he gets turned into a vegetable live on national TV is everyone gonna shrug their shoulders and say “oh well, it was his choice”? Of course not. Something like that is what gets hockey discussed on The View, and that hasn’t happened since Bertuzzi- Moore.

        Do I know what Dorsett’s doctors have said to him? Of course not. But I can’t see “fully cleared to go out and get treated like a punching bag by bigger guys 10-15 times a season” being part of the conversation.

        • KCasey

          I hope you dont truly believe he is nothing more than a punching bag and his sole purpose is to fight people. He is an energy guy. The guy that goes all out every shift and hounds people with non stop pressure. That is his job. Finish checks. And before it even gets brought up finishing checks doesnt require staple guys to the ice. Finishing checks is that thought knowing that everytime you recieve the puck someone is gonna be in your face with pressure. Dorsett doesnt have to fight people anymore than a scorer has to go to the dirty areas to get points. Its just makes them more effective at what it is there trying to accomplish. With all this said I would still rather Virtanen being in the lineup over DD but I love the heart and determination he beings to the locker room and the effect that it can have on younger guys learning from an 11 year pro about commitment.

          • pheenster

            Yeah I totally get that. And I think he’s quite good at that role. But in that role, he winds up getting hit in the head 15 or so times per year. And he just had part of his neck replaced.

            Like I said, I really like the guy. But neck replacement isn’t something you just walk off.

    • Fortitude00

      Pro Athletes and prospects sacrifice their health all the time by taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. There is lots of other stuff that the naked eye doesn’t’ see that pro’s do that puts their health as risk.

    • truthseeker

      Dorsett’s career NHL earnings are about 18 million. (Including this years pay and next years) Let’s be generous and say he loses only 40% tax agent fees etc (It’s much likely closer to 50%). So that means he’s taken home 10.8 million over his (potentially) 13 year career. So just under a million a year. 830K per to be exact.

      So if he retired this year he’d give up these last two years of his contract. That would bring his career earning down to 7.7 million / 11 seasons means he’s made so far 700K per year. Which means he’d be leaving what….15.5% of his total career earnings on the table.

      Would you walk away from 15.5% of your lifetime earnings? For health…I might….I do agree there….but…

      His hockey earnings are his life earnings…so we’re not exactly being accurate when we say he’s made 830K per year. Per HOCKEY year yes….but most people work for 40 years. His 10.8 million take home / 40 years = 270K per year in take home pay.

      Pretty damn good. But 270K a year ain’t “I can do anything I want” kind of money. It’s more like…”I should have a good plan to live comfortably for the rest of my life and maybe have a bit left over for the kids to inherit” kind of money.

      When you look at it from that perspective…I can totally understand why the guy would keep it going and play out as many contracts as possible.

      Guys like him make good money…but they aren’t making crazy good money. It’s not like he’s a movie star or something. He’s making like a decent doctor.

      Guy will probably end up with depression and a body that can’t do anything at 50. All for 270K a year. lol. Could have put all that effort into studying and made the same amount at something that actually does people some good.

  • Rusty

    I would be okay to waiver him to the minors in order to keep one of the kids up. No team will claim him when they consider his age, contract term and injury history. Stash him in Utica as extra depth for the inevitable rash of injuries that the team will encounter during the season. If he is that great a team guy, he will be a leader in Utica and show what it takes to be a pro.

      • TheRealRusty

        Rubbish. Are you saying that teams have no option but to keep a player on the roster even if he no longer deserves a spot? How does that have anything to do with free-agent signings?

        • bobdaley44

          No what i’m saying is you have to be careful of perception. If he doesn’t fit in your plans sending him to Utica is disrespectful to an eleven year veteran. Find another team for him or buy him out.

          • sloth

            bobdaley44 you’re not wrong in principle that “disrespecting” veterans could maybe have a negative effect on a team’s ability to attract veteran free agents, but this is Derek Dorsett we’re talking about, not Loui Eriksson or Tomas Vanek. They acquired Dorsett via trade three years ago, and he’s now finding himself on the fringe of the roster following one of the most significant surgical procedures imaginable.

            If he can’t hold his own in the NHL, that’s just a reality he will have to face, just like every other player in the league sooner or later, and if he’s the team-first guy everyone says he is, I’m sure he will understand the decision and play his heart out in Utica with no hard feelings. Players might talk about their experiences with different franchises, but they are mostly not idiots, and there are a lot of other factors that go into a free-agency decision (eg. fit with roster/coaching staff, travel schedules, city characteristics, family priorities, tax and currency exchange rates, etc.). No free agent is looking at the Canucks saying “Gee I better not sign there, because I might end up in the AHL in the fourth year of my contract like Dorsett if I have a career-threatening neck injury and then a subsequent anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery.”

            Dorsett could be very useful in Utica. Hopefully he can push the needle a bit more in a top-9 role the AHL and could maybe stay away from the fights as a veteran with a more significant place in that roster, while providing valuable tutelage for the young forecheckers and energy players in the organization.

  • Steamer

    I have a bad neck from hockey: herniated cervical discs; permanent post-concussion syndrome, chronic headaches, etc. Wish Dorsett the best of luck, but given his age and style of play, would suggest time to ‘hang ’em up’ is rapidly approaching. Got to think more hits = more damage. Last year for DD is my guess – & don’t see much help coming from Ryan White or Upshall.

  • speering major

    Dorsett plays with heart and fire. That said, for a guy in his role he doesn’t win many fights and isn’t a big hitter. If Dorsett could produce any offense whatsoever then his grit would be an asset. Considering his grit is his only asset, he’s simply not making a big enough impact to warrant a roster spot. Guys like Kassian and Ferland are the type of toughness teams need.

    I admire Dorsett’s spirit but he doesn’t fit todays game and on the downside of his career

  • Sandpaper

    Dorsett’s time has come and gone. A once useful player in a different style of game, but time to move on from him.
    Better options are available and leadership qualities are in abundance on this team with Sedin’s, Gudbranson, Sutter, Bo, Del Zotto, Edler, Erickson etc.
    Turn the page Derek, before you damage yourself for life.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    I know they don’t want to put him through the indignity, but couldn’t they waive him (he’d obviously clear), and then potentially call him up if/when injuries or ineffective play knock someone else out of the lineup? Between Burmistrov, Rodin and Boucher, you have a few guys that would be less likely to clear waivers, but among whom at least one will probably fall out of favour early in the season (eg: before Gaunce comes back), and there are certain to be injuries to consider too, meaning that Dorsett wouldn’t be in Utica too long but wouldn’t hold a valuable piece out of the NHL or push someone to waivers that will come back and bite us. I think it would make the most sense to hold onto as many of the waiver eligible guys as you can and see who can actually keep a spot when the games matter. We’ve seen this song and dance from Virtanen before: we know he’s fast and can hit guys, especially when those guys are ECHL bound, but that’s not necessarily going to translate into anything in the regular season.

    • Gregthehockeynut

      The slow demise of the true tough guy role in the modern NHL has led to new fourth line roles. PP PK specialists who can really skate and have just enough talent to play in the top six when injuries hit. Players who have one or two shortcomings that keep them out of a true top six role. I have heard the term ‘tweeners’, neither top six talent nor bottom six grit. These type of players are more likely to hold a roster spot now, especially if the penalty parade in the Kings game continues into the regular season.

    • TheRealRusty

      I completely agree. I would rather send Virtanen down to get top 6 all situation minutes in Utica, than plug him in a 4th line role in the big club. We need to show patience with him and develop him the right way, instead of rushing him just to show that he isn’t a wasted pick…

  • copey

    DD should be a mentor in the AHL, where he can be shown respect and start working on the player-coach role. If he’s on the starting roster than the Canucks are in serious trouble. If Chris Higgins can be a big man and play in the AHL (and then get called up), so can Dorsett. Meanwhile Virtanen is never going to be anything than a bottom six player, so might as well get him used to the role. And, if he does show promise, he’ll get rewarded instantly in the NHL. He’s had his seasoning and it was bitter; is another year of pushing around kids and marginal players in the AHL really going to help him? People keep talking about confidence and work ethic in Virtanen, fine, but really his best role in the AHL is to make sure the younger plays don’t get roughed up.

  • BennyHaha

    When I heard about his injury last year I thought FOR SURE that’s the end of his career! Every time I see him out there hitting, being hit or punched in the face, I’m going to be wondering if this is the hit/punch that does him in.

  • Silverback

    Critical commentary is fine. Mean spirited and disrespectful jabs at someone who’s skill set you do not appreciate is not alright. This guy has devoted his life to this sport. Slack jawed cudgel? By definition, that is exactly what defines your style. Instead of a stick you use your keyboard.
    Try this. Post only what you would say to your subjects face. I don’t think you would. Not because you would be afraid of Dorset, but because you would be embarrassed…ok, maybe you might be afraid as well.