For many, defenseman Lee Sweatt’s retirement is little more than the death of a few hundred sweat-related puns. It’s hard not to feel bad for the defenseman whose career shattered with the foot he used to block shots last season, though.
Jason Botchford’s hopeful late-July piece about Sweatt’s strange 2010-11 season now seems like a sad epitaph for Sweatt’s career. Some injuries opened the door for Sweatt to earn a bit of playing time with the Vancouver Canucks and he cashed in quickly, scoring a game-winning goal in his first-ever NHL game against the Nashville Predators on January 26. The goal was so unlikely that his teammates chanted “Rudy!” when he entered the locker room.
Everything started so well, but the ride wouldn’t last long. Right after scoring that goal, Sweatt blocked a howling shot by Predators defenseman Shea Weber.
“On my very next shift, Shea Weber took a slap shot and I blocked it with my foot. I finished the game but I could barely walk,” Sweatt said.
“Everyone knows he has basically the hardest shot in the league. What are the chances?”
The X-rays showed severe bruising hours later, but no break. It’s possible the foot was too swollen to detect a fracture. Sweatt rested his injured [foot] during the all-star break and was well enough to play two more games before the Canucks were set to send him down to the AHL.
But the morning before he was to be on a plane headed for Manitoba, he blocked another shot in practice with the Canucks and the foot was shattered. So was his season.
And now it’s clear that those two blocked shots probably claimed his career. Sweatt’s agents Norton Sports announced his retirement, which comes despite signing a two-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.
Maybe scoring one goal and one assist for two points in three career games constitutes overachieving for a player of Sweatt’s low profile, but it’s still sad that it all ended so quickly. Then again, his story reveals the dangers of blocking shots and how a little luck can make and break a non-star’s career.
Most of the big-name free agents have either found a home (if they’re unrestricted and desirable) or are locked in limbo (if they’re restricted and prohibitively expensive). That being said, there are plenty of smaller names re-upping with their previous teams or signing with new franchises. Let’s take a look at the July 11 signings of lesser note.
- The Anaheim Ducks signed Dan “Big Sexy” Sexton to an intriguing two-year deal today. Sexton’s new contract is a little unusual because it will be a two-year contract in 2011-12 and then a one-way deal in 2012-13. The deal will be worth $550K at the NHL level both seasons and worth $105K whenever he plays at the AHL level in 11-12. The right winger has been respectable in half-season duty the last two seasons, scoring 13 points in 47 games in 10-11 and 19 in 41 games in 09-10.
- The Washington Capitals signed former Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Christian Hanson to a one-year, two-way deal. The most notable thing about this deal is that Christian Hanson is the son of one of the infamous Hanson Brothers from the classic hockey movie “Slap Shot” while Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau appeared in the film. It’s tough to say that he’ll produce at the NHL level in a way that would top that random anecdote, though.
- Finally, the Chicago Blackhawks signed forward Rob Klinkhammer and goalie Alec Richards to deals today. Klinkhammer’s last name is what really makes this worth noting; if nothing else, today’s signings are a pun-maker’s delight.
Things are getting a bit out of hand for Vancouver now. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa will miss the next 2-3 weeks of action with a broken foot. You can add Bieksa to the Canucks defensive injured list that includes Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Alex Edler, Lee Sweatt, and Andrew Alberts. Getting to join the party from the AHL to take Bieksa’s place is Evan Oberg.
After an off-season that was filled with trade rumors for Bieksa, he’s emerged to be one of their best blue liners this year. With six goals and 13 assists and a ridiculous +26 plus/minus rating he’s been the rock they could count on with a constant cycle of guys in and out of the lineup. Now he goes on the shelf with three other starting defensemen leaving Vancouver a top six that is overrun with AHL players.
Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo, and Aaron Rome are their veteran guys while Oberg, Chris Tanev, and Yann Sauve make up their bottom three. Rome gets veteran status even though he wouldn’t be a fixture in the lineup if it weren’t for injuries. It’s a stunning array of “who’s that” players and yet through all of this the Canucks still maintain the best record in the NHL and have the most points with 83. To give you an idea of how inexperienced the trio of Oberg, Tanev, and Sauve are they have combined for 15 games played in the NHL and 12 of those belong to Tanev this season.
If the Canucks can maintain their dominance through all of this it will be one of the more impressive feats of the season and make them an even more dangerous team come playoff time when they get their lineup back to full health.
Last night’s Canucks loss to St. Louis proved to be costly in a way that Vancouver is getting a bit too used to these days. During the game, the team lost defenseman Andrew Alberts with a broken wrist putting him on the shelf for a few weeks. This puts Alberts on the injured list along with Alex Edler, Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, and Lee Sweatt at the moment. If you’re keeping track, that’s three starters, an occasional starter, and one rookie all out of the lineup right now.
To replace Alberts, the team called up Yann Sauve. Sauve has the significance of being Vancouver’s 12th defenseman they’ve used this year. To say the Canucks have persevered in the face of trouble would be an understatement. Vancouver still sits atop the Western Conference standings with 81 points, seven more than second place Detroit. The Canucks also lead their division by 15 points over Calgary.
Vancouver’s ability to dominate in the West where the playoff race is so tight a short losing streak can send you tumbling down the standings is incredible. Having so many guys get hurt can usually break a team or at least make them fall off for a bit, but Vancouver has continued to march through their season and have the best record in the NHL. What it says about the job coach Alain Vigneault and GM Mike Gillis are doing this season is incredible. We’ve said plenty here about saying the Canucks are looking tough to beat but they’ve been doing it shorthanded virtually all season long. It’s frightening to think what they’d be capable of with a fully healthy roster to run with.
The Canucks will be without an underrated and important part of their defensive corps for an undetermined amount of time. Alexander Edler is going on the shelf for some time as he’s going in to get micro disectomy surgery on his back putting him out of the lineup indefinitely. Edler missed last night’s game against Nashville leading to Lee Sweatt becoming the hero of the night in the Canucks 2-1 win.
If you’re not familiar with Edler’s work this season on the blue line, perhaps it’s time to get acquainted with it. Edler leads all Vancouver defensemen in: goals, assists, points, and time on ice. While he doesn’t get the publicity usually given to such performers, the Canucks are very much going to miss his presence on the ice.
Somewhat conveniently, Vancouver is hoping to have Sami Salo back soon. While he’s a good defenseman, relying on him to stay healthy is a risky proposition as he’s been out all season with an Achilles tendon injury. The Canucks have had their share of annoying injuries along the blue line this season with Salo, Dan Hamhuis, and Keith Ballard all seeing time on the shelf. They’ve been able to withstand previous injuries but Edler’s absence will be a true test. As for how long he’ll be out, the team won’t know until after surgery is completed. An extended absence would put a dent in the team’s depth and really put the pressure on Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa to keep their solid play up the rest of the way.