Please note: The article and comments herein were written prior to the last 2 games, where the Canucks have become hockey vikings, pillaging their way through the East Coast. Best road team in the NHL right now, and the news about Derek Dorsett. And how awesome is it that Brock Boeser, less than 30 games into his NHL career already completely and utterly OWNS a goalie, let alone the one he’s chosen to occupy that role?
The Vancouver Canucks are 20-ish games into the season as they head into another Eastern road swing, and despite an off-season where change was the order of the day, this band seems to be playing a pretty familiar tune. Just 9 wins so far, and the usual suspects contributing to this: a lack of goal scoring, defensive woes and injuries to key players.
We’re going to take a look at some key issues, and ask our hard working writing staff to let us know how they think the Canucks are doing, and where they think this is heading. Let’s get started, shall we?
The biggest change in the off-season was behind the bench. Travis Green was promoted from Utica after the firing of Willie Desjardins. How good of a job is Green doing? What don’t you like about new coach so far? How about the assistants?
Kent Basky: Small sample size notwithstanding, I think Green’s an improvement over Willie in a number of areas, though it’s not really a surprise that there’s some growing pains. While there’s a work effort that was not present in this team during the Desjardins era (nor the Tortorella season, either), and the Canucks have been more often than not entertaining to watch in a way we haven’t seen in years, there’s still a gap between the Canucks and the rest of the contenders in the West. Green’s stumbled in a few areas (see below), but is doing an okay job with the mess he’s been left. Newell Brown’s return was seen as a positive, but the one-time special teams guru has been a major disappointment so far. Nolan Baumgartner’s doing a decent job with a pretty rag-tag d-core considering the injuries thus far. And give Dan Cloutier credit, goaltending has been something the Canucks haven’t had to worry about too much.
Westy99: I wasn’t a fan of this hiring. And to be honest I am still not sure how this is actually going. I say this because the Canucks aren’t winning at home. When you have last change, you’re supposed to have the advantage as a coach. This isn’t happening. The Canucks are winning on the road because teams haven’t adjusted to who the Canucks are right now. That will change.
The special teams are bad...again. I’m not sure if any coach can help this group get to 19% PP and 85% PK.
Yankee Canuck: Every new coach gets a grace period and he didn’t tank out of the gate so there’s that. I also give him props - for the most part - on some icetime decisions, especially taking the foot off the Sedin pedal which could have backfired. But as Westy said the team is still hanging by a thread on special teams and there’s games like that 5-0 Sharks loss where you wonder what if they’ve been punching above their weight so far. Overall I think he’s doing fine, it’s a low bar after all and the team he inherited is still in a weird transition.
jimmi.cynic: It seems to me Vancouver’s choice to go Green was pretty astute. After 20 games with near 20 dynamic wins the gamble appears to have paid off - in the media scrums. And that is vital at this point of the Canucks re-re-re-rejuvenation process. While Willie was a great guy, a real good coach, his low-key folksy style just didn’t mesh with the vitriolic Vancouver sports media. Green has the confident demeanour and the well developed stink eye stare to go toe-to-eyeball with these paid sass assassins.
Oh...you meant the hockey part of the game. It’s ok. The balanced 4 line display was great for the 4 or 5 games that it worked - as Yeo has shown, better to roll with 6 lines and to keep the refs guessing - can’t count ‘em all. The New-Look Nucks have been fun to watch so far this season. Not as much fun as Green in the pressers, but next season I expect a better on-ice display and more muted scrumbophonics.
The Youth Movement: Is it really a thing with the Canucks? Considering the usage issues with Jake Virtanen and other Canucks youngsters, is there really a youth movement here?
KB: Green’s reluctance to use Virtanen, especially the way it seems to mirror Desjardins’ issues with Jake are concerning to say the least. I think the biggest issue is there doesn’t seem to be any type of consensus on just what his role is supposed to be. Heck, it took about a dozen games to really unleash Brock Boeser, and even then he was being under-utilized on the PP. Jake’s stats show that he’s playing well, yet he seems to get benched on the slightest error. And let’s not forget Nikolai Goldobin, who’s been tearing up the AHL and should be on this team right now, a fact made even more frustrating when you look at the play of Sam Gagner and a few others.
Westy99: For all the calls to see the youth movement, there are still vets who are going to play because they have big contracts. This is the big divide between the owner and the fans. An owner wants to make money and maybe win a championship. Fans just want wins.
YC: Virtanen aside, Boeser, Horvat and Baertschi are leading the team offensively and Sven is the senior of the bunch at 25 years old. We’re caught in this rebuild that’s a rehaul that’s a reinvestment that’s a rehaulbuild, ah to hell with it. I don’t much mind the approach they’re taking, but I agree that vets should start sitting (Gagner!) more regularly, which I think will start to happen as the team gets to the halfway mark and falls out of playoff contention.
JC: I’m going to call out Gagner too, because when the entire NM crack team of anal analysts calls out a player - that player goes on at least a one game scoring spree.
This roster is an interesting mix of youth and extremely former youth. Jake and the Sedins together is fun to watch because of the contrasting speed differential - Jake rushes to gobble the moments like he’ll never run out and the Twins stretch the limited ice time to savour the moment as if it’s their last.
All Hail The New Flesh: The Canucks made a number of moves over the summer, and since the season started. Who’s been the best new addition, and who’s been the worst?
KB: Anders Nilsson has been a pleasant surprise, already garnering 2 shutouts and having seemingly rebuilt his game when some felt he was a real gamble for the Canucks to sign. I also like the play of Derrick Pouliot. He’s been a fairly steady presence on the Canucks blue line, and while we may not have seen the Pouliot that the Penguins thought they were getting when they drafted him in the first round, the Canucks have certainly gotten more out of him than Pittsburgh ever did.
Westy99: I have to go with Pouliot as well. The Canucks are bound to lose multiple defensemen over the season and having better defensemen than Biega and .....Subban is always a good thing. Pouliot has played better than I thought he was going to. The worst new addition has to be Gagner. I never thought he was the answer to the PP, and he is not.
YC: Vanek if only because I expected next to nothing from him. He’s a hired gun playing for a contract on a better team, but he’s already got more goals and points than he did when the Panthers landed him last season. I look forward to more slapshot goals during his brief stay in town. The worst addition? Let’s call it a tie: Gagner since he’s showing last year was aberration and Megna because sure he isn’t new but you can’t tell me there aren’t better options here to call up. You can’t, don’t try.
JC: MDZ has been D-surprise for me. He’s had to eat so many extra minutes since Edler and Tanev got an early invite to the Injury Faerie infirmary, that he deserves a sponsorship deal with an antacid sports drink company. While he hasn’t been the greatest shutdown D-man, he has, unlike all his other D-bros, scored a highlight reel goal. Not sure I can watch that replay over and over until February when another of D gets a hot goal, but willing to try.
What’s the bigger issue: The usage (or lack thereof) with the Sedins, or the Sutter/Dorsett/Granlund line? Something else, perhaps?
KB: Can I toss a coin on this one? Between the way Sutter and Dorsett continue to get prime minutes despite the scoring burst of Dorsett now a fading memory, and the fact that this line is consistently getting buried, (which is a pretty bad look for a checking line) and an OT where Daniel and Henrik Sedin did not play a shift? Alarm bells, big time.
Westy99: We have four lines, the B’s, the Sedins/Virt and Sutter/DD/Granny. The other line is always the mystery to me. That magical fourth line doesn’t seem to do much.
YC: I don’t see much of a problem because, pardon my reference, “it is what it is”. The team invested in guys like Sutter and Eriksson and they’re not providing the support that was expected which would allow for a more balanced attach. The Sedins are being used properly, thinking Dorsett would continue to carry that line offensively is adorbs but let’s be real, but the main issue is they have a good chunk of cap space invested in veteran pieces that aren’t working as expected. If anything we should be ecstatic that the B’s are, for the most part, holding their own. Imagine if they weren’t.
JC: While the league leading shot percentage, team-leading goal production from Double D has tapered off a cliff into negative space, he still leads the league in penalty minutes - and that is something. A something that can keep the Nucks off the
world’s league’s worst power play. Until the power breakthrough happens. And it will. 3rd or 4th worst power play is there for the taking. And the win from last game could carryover on the road to push us into the dizzying heights of 16-18% effectiveness.
While I bemoan the $6M a year 60 year deal for Eriksson as much as anyone, he’s been good on the PK and better on the Mercenary line than with the Sedins. Deployment is key. There’s many ways he could be deployed - I’ll let the great military minds of NM work on those strategic details.
The back end: Defensive positives and negatives?
KB: Chris Tanev is good, Alex Edler, Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton are better than people think. Erik Gudbranson is awful, and Michael Del Zotto’s been average at best. The issue that kind of gets swept aside because the Canucks’ D struggle with the defensive side so much is their offensive output. This team is going nowhere until they can start getting scoring from the defence.
Westy99: If I could trade Edler tomorrow, it wouldn’t be soon enough. I hope we can get 60 games from Tanev this year...I wouldn’t count on it. I can’t think of a positive.
YC: Tanev, Stecher, and Hutton are the big three and I don’t envy their jobs, I hope there’s more left in the Edler tank but that’s looking grim, Pouliot is a nice surprise if he can play consistently and MDZ is this year’s winner of the coveted “hope you like getting tossed to the wolves” role so being average is OK. It’s not like they have a lot to fall back on unless Juolevi suddenly becomes relevant. All of which underscores the super obvious: I miss Tryamkin.
JC: I don’t want to sound too defensive with my negatives, so will just say when the D-corp plays as a team and loses as a team that it is enough to make me cry some loathing in Vegas nights. I’m willing to trade Doughty, Ekblad from my Fantasy team, if only JB would take my calls.
Can the Canucks get something for Gudbranson before it’s too late?
KB: Dear god I hope so, because you should be really pissed if they either let him get away and get nothing in return, or worse, re-sign him to a contract (never mind the raise). He’s been a disaster.
Westy99: I don’t think he should be re-signed. I hope we can get a 2nd rounder for him at the deadline.
YC: I suppose it’s possible there’s a good way the Guds story can end well for Vancouver.
Just like I suppose it’s possible an actual Orca whale will stand upright, walk out of the water and directly into Benning’s office, sit down and ask for a coffee because you can’t get the good stuff underwater (natch) and then after pleasantries exchanged about the holidays, how the kids are doing, dislodging parasites from dorsal fins and apologies for breaking the chair because they don’t design modern furniture for six-ton odontocetis like they used to the Orca removes his glasses in a very calculated, almost Hollywood-lawyerly manner because he’s ready to drop some sound logic on ol’ Ben (...did I mention the whale has glasses on? No? Killers need good vision because you can’t kill what you can’t see, this is obvious, please keep up), clears his throat with an almost cute “ahem” - like you’d want to record it for your phone so when someone texts and there’s a whale “ahem” chime everyone will ask what the hell that sound is and you’ll be faux-popular for a few seconds - and leans in, eyes up Benning and confidently asks what his species did to humans in a former life to be so poorly treated as to remain on the crest of a professional sports organization so badly managed that it would swap a prospect for a questionable defender and then get nixed trying to trade him back to the same team five seconds later by another player who wants nothing to do with their clownshoes operation only to ultimately again find themselves in a situation where they are going to take a bath on a guy who is going to leave anyway and then with an exasperated “harumph” - but this wasn’t as cute as the aforementioned “ahem” - the Orca promptly stands up, keeps a menacing stare on Benning as he goes to exit but before he leaves reminds the GM that his kind has dealt with Seaworld crap for years which felt easy compared to the ongoing nightmare (...yes whales dream and not all dreams are good...) of being linked to this sad franchise and then leaves the arena and swings by La Belle Patate Vancouver for all you can eat poutine because what good is it leaving the water and getting gawked at by confused two leggers if you don’t get poutine and the menu said all you can eat and they can’t discriminate against whales unless they want a particularly nasty lawsuit (...yes whales have lawyers stop asking so many stupid questions reader...) before returning to the water at long last to tell the rest of his podmates that, regrettably, they’re still talking about Gudbranson up there so it’s better to stay underwater and, besides, they still can’t afford rent in the city anyway.
It could happen. Never tell me the odds.
JC: Wow! Yankee, no words. Can only say this (and not as menacingly):
Goaltending: Is there a true number one? Should it be Demko Time if the Canucks are out of the race?
KB: I believe Nilsson’s been the better goalie. I understand Green wanting to get Jacob Markstrom chances to redeem himself after losses, but I think that calling up Thatcher Demko when Nilsson was at home for the birth of his child and not playing him, even as a reward for his stellar start with the Utica Comets was a mistake. I would say though that unless the Comets are out of the mix in the AHL, Demko’s best served finishing the year in Utica.
Westy99: If we have two goalies in the middle of the pack in save percentage, i consider that a win. I tire of goalie talk when this team’s real issue is goal scoring.
YC: ^ What Westy said. The goaltending isn’t perfect, but it’s not a problem nearly on the level of what’s in front of them. I do think getting Demko some games in garbage time later in the season makes sense.
JC: What’s better than two number ones? Three, maybe.
Does Jim Benning deserve an extension if they make the playoffs?
KB: Unless they somehow got to the Conference Finals? No. A few decent acquisitions, one good draft and a good trade for Pouliot do not erase a pretty dismal record as GM. And I am not sure Trevor Linden needs to be spared either.
Westy99: I would give GMJB one more deadline and draft.
YC: I’m not the biggest Jimbo fan, but I’m not sold on dropping him in favor of someone else who is going to take a few seasons to implement their vision either. The team’s at a weird junction, trying to quietly sunset their favorite Swedish duo while giving the youth some time to shine. I think Benning should stay for now but his next draft is his hill to die on. He’ll likely have draft picks from deadline trade and a high pick of his own. No more excuses.
JC: Agree with Yankee. We need some stability through this unstable period - stay the course - at least until next month.
Random Crap Shoot: Any thoughts that don’t fit these categories, put ‘em here:
KB: Nikolay Goldobin and Philip Holm deserve a look. Dorsett’s a great story, but he needs to be relegated to 4th line minutes (as does Sutter) for this team to succeed. Brock Boeser is the real deal and they need to ensure he and his line get every chance to prove that. Also, prepare yourselves, because the end of an era is coming.
Westy99: All this talk about Jake and his ice time needs to stop. Jake is not a special teams player, yet. Therefore as long as he plays on a line with the Sedins, Jake will always have low ice times. If people want him to play more they should complain that he plays on the Sedin line.
YC: God I really want poutine now.
JC: Poutine in June served in a big silver Cup please.