Every week, we gather up the Nucks Misconduct scribes under threat of a tersely worded DM and get them to weigh in on a handful of topics relating to the Canucks. Some are well thought-out answers to these questions, and some are from Jimmi and Westy. Anyway, here’s this week’s Round Table, as we dissect a pretty awful road trip.
1.- There’s a very real chance that the Canucks could be out of a playoff spot before the end of the week. Is this a disappointment, or the reality of a team that was being dragged kicking and screaming into respectability by one of the NHL’s most underrated goaltenders?
Rob - Actually there is zero chance of the Canucks heading into Wednesday’s game out of a playoff spot or even being out of a playoff spot after a regulation loss to Arizona on hump day. Hanging onto the 2nd Wild Card spot by a thread, yes. Out, no. I checked using all my fingers and toes.
Subpar clutch goaltending by both Demko and Domingue is what sunk the Canucks’ road trip. Markstrom is an elite goalie and a difference-maker.
The Canucks’ are not a one-trick pony. They have one of the best offences in the Western Conference and one of the best power plays in the entire league. The defence corps still needs two or three subtractions and additions to become better. Also the team defence overall is inconsistent. This is on coach Green.
westy99 - The 7 game winning streak really screwed up the perception of this team. This is a bubble team due to the fact that there is only one dangerous line and the defense sucks. Now that Marky is out...well...shit.
Beggsy - When one of the league’s leaders on goaltending analytics says that Markstrom should be the front-runner for the Vezina, well, that says all you need to know about his impact and the team’s porous defence.
Regardless of Markstrom though, it’s a disappointment if this team is out of the playoffs. The fact that this team is still one of the worst teams at defending is an indictment on Jim Benning for failing to build around the young stars.
jimmi - Not a disappointment if the Nucks miss the playoffs. A gut-wrenching devastation, sure. This roster (pretty much) has the talent to win at will. Whether the will or compete level is available is a question that they have answered loudly on this trip. They’re not ready.
Maybe next year, maybe not. The real problem is structural. The season is 25-30 games too long, games 10-15 minutes too long. When the league solves those issues for us, then we can hold the players, coaches and management accountable.
Kevin Wong (@CambieKev) - A competitive playoff team should be able to withstand the turbulence of the regular season and still qualify. The Canucks seem not to adhere to this description. They are skilled, creative, fast, and blessed with offensive talent, but without Jacob Markstrom’s nightly heroics, the team’s defensive gaffes are now fatal.
Their late-game collapse against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday was not the first meltdown of the season; their 8-6 loss in Pittsburgh on November 27 featured six goals against in the third period — Markstrom was not in net. Their 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on October 20 was a harrowing experience, as the opponent pummeled the Canucks with 17 shots on goal in the third period while Vancouver mustered only six in return. Markstrom was the difference.
The team’s most critical flaw has been exposed: they struggle to defend their leads. If they miss the playoffs, it will not be a disappointment. The Canucks were not expected to reach the playoff prior to the start of the season. All-Star caliber performances from a select few brought the team close, but numerous issues remain that must be fixed before the team can be considered a legitimate threat for the Stanley Cup.
Kent- There are a lot of things that are better when it comes to this year’s version of the Vancouver Canucks. Sadly, defence is not one of them. I mean, while Jim Benning tried to give the D a new look by adding Tyler Myers, the back end (save for Quinn Hughes) continue to struggle with getting the puck out of their own zone and turning the puck over whenever a moderate amount of pressure is applied. The losses of key players, and inability of the team to either hold leads or dig themselves out of the holes they seem to create night after night are just magnified with Markstrom out of the lineup. And with the possibility they could go into Wednesday night’s game without Quinn Hughes AND Tyler Myers just has me feeling this team isn’t going to make it, despite having an over 80% chance of making it a few days ago.
2.- Speaking of Jacob Markstrom, this past week has shown that whether it’s with the Canucks or another team he is gonna get PAID this summer. Pretend you’re Jim Benning (or if it makes you feel better, pretend you’re his replacement after he gets fired for missing the playoffs again): which pending free agent do you get rid of to help clear cap space for re-signing him? Jake Virtanen? Troy Stecher? Chris Tanev? Someone else?
Rob - I think it is time to move on from Chris Tanev at the end of the year. He was a healthy (so far) warrior for the most part in his swan song but I don’t see a repeat of another healthy season for him for the rest of his career. It made sense to keep him as an own-rental this February but it is time to wave good-bye.
It is probably also time to cash-in Virtanen and Stecher for a draft pick or picks and make room for younger and cheaper options like MacEwen, Lind, Rafferty and Rathbone.
westy99 - I agree that it might be time to let Tanev go, but can imagine the backlash of letting Tanev go and getting nothing for him? I think Jake might get a contract over Troy just because he should get 20 goals (and Kyle pays the price). If you could sign and trade Tanev, that would be amazing.
Beggsy - The goaltending storyline is going to be one of the most fascinating stories of the offseason. I still think the Canucks have to be careful on term with Markstrom. He’s played remarkably in a contract year, but goaltending is wacky and Demko still projects to be a starting goaltender. I might be in the minority, but I’d probably let Markstrom walk if he wanted more than four years.
This teams needs an improvement on defence, so I’d be in favour of letting Tanev walk or trading Stecher. Between the two, I’d keep Stecher based on the fact that he probably provides the same impact as Tanev, and he’d come cheaper. In an ideal situation, you’d move contracts like Eriksson, Beagle, Sutter, Baertschi, Myers out the door instead, but I digress.
jimmi - This is a hockey blog, it’s an expected part of the job, but I never signed up for armchair GM. After years of consulting the Nucks HQ, they ignored my warnings and signed Sutter, then Eriksson and overpaid Beagle. And waaay overpaid Loui. And then signed Myers. And lost the bet to the Faeries on Ferland. I refuse to be pulled into the thankless, unpaid job of rosterbating anymore.
While the other NM assistant GMs might be interested in building a winning roster, we forget there’s a niche the Nucks are marketing to, the masochists.
Kevin Wong (@CambieKev) - Considering the problems on defence, a retooling of the team’s defensive corps might be the most appropriate action. Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher are among the easiest players to remove from the roster due to their pending free agent status. Their salary requests may play a role in the decision, but Chris Tanev is the more obvious candidate based on his age, injury history, and future trajectory.
The team should perhaps look to make next season’s training camp its most competitive on defence in years. Invite Nikita Tryamkin and all of the Utica defence prospects to camp. Evaluate the positional soundness and anticipation skills of these players against National Hockey League competition.
Kent- If you were one of the people who thought that the Canucks cap situation wasn’t nearly as dire as some were making it out to be, I have some bad news for you. With the possibility that the Coronavirus becomes a full blown pandemic, the impact this is going to have on the profits of NHL teams could be massive. It’s a possibility there could be no increase at all, or a minute one at best, to the salary cap for next season, and that means that the Canucks are going to be in the unenviable situation of either trying to convince some schmuck of a GM to take a guy like Loui Eriksson or Brandon Sutter off their hands, and walk away from guys like Jake Virtanen, who’s had a heck of a season and pretty much earned himself a raise. There will be painful decisions coming up, but as is usually the case with this team, the wounds are self-inflicted.
3.- At the risk of sounding alarmist, are the Canucks wasting the skill of guys like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller with this bottom 6?
Rob - No. Take Loui Eriksson out of the top 6 and replace him with Brock Boeser and put Ferland and Leivo into the bottom 6 and you have an imposing forward group. You do need to move the Eriksson and Sutter contracts out this summer though.
westy99 - it is what it is....I wish the bottom six wouldn’t take so many dumb penalties and get scored so much, but Miller has taken dumb ones and Petey had moments of inconsistencies as well. Those three guys just need to play their own game.
Beggsy - The bottom six is much better now than it was in seasons past. Adam Gaudette and Virtanen are perfect third-line scoring forwards, but they’re being dragged down by Antoine Roussel right now. The fourth line has shown flashes of playing really well at points as well when Tyler Motte is healthy.
Guys like Virtanen, Gaudette and Roussel need to cut down on turnovers, and these bottom six guys cannot be taking dumb penalties in the dying minutes of hockey games. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s a huge issues with this team.
jimmi - We’re spoiled with a few generational talents. That should be enough. But, sporting decorum requires the pretence of playing the ‘team’ game. Again, it’s a structural problem with the NHL format.
It’s far too much responsibility for our young and young(ish) millionaires to be expected to give a fuck night after night. Shorten the game length and always play 3-on-3. Problems solved. Salary cap issues solved. Diluted talent pool issues solved. These solutions are available, but the NHLPA will never let it happen.
Kevin Wong (@CambieKev) - Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes had the misfortune of arriving before this roster was ready to compete in the playoffs, but they remain young enough that many years will exist to battle for the Stanley Cup. The time frame for an elite prospect’s arrival during a development cycle is unpredictable. Fortunately, changes have been prompt to provide them with additional support. The Canucks were a one-line team a year ago; in the span of nine months, they have added two legitimate top-six forwards in Miller and Tyler Toffoli and have fortified the upper half of their forward chart.
Within a year, we may be witnessing the potential arrival of prospects such as Vasili Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander as well as other forward acquisitions. If they perform as expected and meld comfortably into the team’s middle-six ranks, then the team can afford to remove the weakest links from their top nine. Adam Gaudette, Jake Virtanen, and Tyler Motte are, at this point, bottom-six staples; with a few other personnel changes this and next off-season, the bottom six will likely be quite different when the team is ready to compete. A higher degree of skill among the third and fourth lines should be one of the organization’s primary priorities.
Kent- I don’t think that they’re wasting the skill of these players at all. I mean, both Hughes and especially Miller have completely exceeded expectations this season, and Pettersson has been solid overall. The sooner that the next wave of young talent comes in to replace the anchors that continue to drag this team down, the better. The problem is I don’t have faith in Jim Benning to fix a mess that he’s mostly responsible for, because he doesn’t even see a lot of it as a problem.
4.- Are Canucks fans overreacting to Thatcher Demko’s play on this road trip?
Rob - Yes. I predict he will get back on track with some home cooking starting on Wednesday. He has a strong mental game and I think he will rebound.
westy99 - Demko has played terribly all year on the road, not just this trip. Is that an indicator of future play? With this defense....yes.
Beggsy - Yes. I’ve said it before, Believe in Demko.
jimmi - Demmer is the goalie of the future. Not the goalie of the now. Again this can be solved at the league level. Do the right thing, NHL, end the season now.
Kevin Wong (@CambieKev) - Thatcher Demko’s troubles are to be expected from a player of his age and experience. Young goaltenders often struggle throughout their earliest campaigns. There are countless examples of goalies past, e.g., Jacob Markstrom and Pekka Rinne, who were not prepared to become NHL starters until they were in their late 20s. Rinne was 26 years of age when he became Nashville’s starter; Markstrom was 28.
Demko has been average, not great, for the Canucks. There are still ways in which he can improve. Nonetheless, one must recall that this is his first full NHL season — he has much to learn. His development has not finished as of yet.
Kent- I don’t think he played well on this trip. I also don’t think it’s the end of the world, or a sign that he’s a failure as a goaltender. I also think the team has too many issues that will keep them from being able to make the playoffs. I would have liked to see Travis Green play him a little more than he has this season. Maybe with a little more rest, Markstrom doesn’t suffer that injury. Either way, Demko will get better. Probably not in time to salvage their playoff hopes, though.
5.- 17 games remaining. Can the Canucks make the playoffs?
Rob - Yes. I think they can still do it but Demko will have to rise to the occasion.
I’d rather see DiPietro start instead of Domingue when a back-up start is needed. The kid is more likely to come up with a bravura performance than the career journeyman is likely to do so.
westy99 - this lineup....nope
Beggsy - I’m saying yes. I think the Canucks are better than Calgary, Arizona and Winnipeg. They might just barely sneak in, but I still think they’re a playoff team.
jimmi - with this lineup? Sure. If they wanted to. But they would have to want it more than anything else. And believe in themselves and each other no matter what. In other words... probably not.
Kevin Wong (@CambieKev) - The final week of the season could be volatile for the Canucks’ faithful if their team’s playoff eligibility must be decided by a mere handful of points. At this point, the season’s success hinges on the recovery of the Canucks’ injured players and the discipline of their defence.
The atmosphere in April may either be as festive as it was in 1991, or as dour as in 2006 and 2008. Roberto Luongo’s post-game media scrum after the 2008 elimination remains a memorable moment in the aftermath of their defeat in Game 81. The Canucks’ official message boards were flooded with frustrated visitors that night. The team’s Twitter community would be irate if a similar elimination scenario occurred this year.
That same year, the Chicago Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. Both the Canucks and Blackhawks were on the verge of becoming NHL behemoths, and this team is trending in that direction as well.
A playoff berth would be a bonus. If the Canucks miss the postseason, then at least they will retain their lottery-protected, first-round draft choice. The draft lottery presents a small but glorious opportunity to acquire one of the draft’s first three draft choices. Those prizes have narrowly eluded the Canucks since the introduction of the current lottery system in 2016. Perhaps they will claim the draft’s top player on the 50th anniversary of the infamous roulette wheel incident.
Kent- Considering they weren’t really supposed to be here, the fact that they’ve been able to hang in there and give us a glimpse of what the new core of this team is going to be doing in a couple years, it’s hard to be angry about this. Frustrated? Of course. This team’s been depressing as hell to watch for a while now, which is why this season has been so fun: the horrid nights like Sunday’s game have been tempered with games like the one against Boston. It’s like being in hell with air conditioning. Sure, we’re still in hell, but at least we’re a little more comfortable.
BONUS POSITIVITY QUESTION:
6.- Who do you think the Canucks would fare the best against in a first round playoff matchup?
Rob - Arizona but that would bore me to death. My second choice is Edmonton and that would be a fun series I think.
westy99 - not sure there is a team that they could beat at this point...ask me next week.
Beggsy - Could they face one of those Pacific teams I just mentioned, Calgary or Arizona? They’d fare best against Arizona, then Calgary. Edmonton scares me (can’t believe I’m saying that), but like Rob said, it would be a fun series.
I think we also have to consider that the Canucks could slip into a Wild Card spot and face St. Louis, Colorado or Vegas as well. Vegas scares me the most out of those teams, but I’d love for them to go toe-to-toe with the Avalanche, if only for the entertainment value.
jimmi - Doesn’t matter who they face. Could knock out the Blues in 4 games. In the shootout. But again, the NHL changes the rules for the playoffs. With the no-rules playoff rulebook, Nucks would have to play at least 60 minutes of gorefest hockey or more.
This roster is ready for 5-10 minutes of gorefest goonery, Faeries permitting. As hideous as it is, the best thing this group could do is miss the playoffs and soul search on the greens for a few months. Then return fresh for training camp ready to break our hearts all over again.
Kevin Wong (@CambieKev) - A series against the Calgary Flames seems to be the most survivable, assuming Arizona fails to qualify for the playoffs. The Canucks have not fared well against the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Central Division teams are in a class of their own at this point in time. The sheer offensive potency of those teams can dismantle any team’s defensive system.
One can never dismiss the possibility of an upset — the Tampa Bay Lightning are all too familiar with that notion —, but I would prefer their first playoff foray in five years to be against a similarly-ranked combatant. The Canucks and Flames also share an extensive playoff history with one another, none of which have ever disappointed in terms of their theatrics.
Kent- I guess the Flames or maybe the Oilers. But right now I just feel like there’s no one they could win 4 out of seven against. Ask me in two weeks.