Over the past few weeks, momentum has rapidly picked up around the NHL’s plans for finishing the season with rumors of a 24-team round robin and playoff to award the Stanley Cup.
Sources indicate the Return To Play Committee has talked throughout the weekend, NHL-NHLPA making progress on a 24-team format. Sources also stressing there's still work to be done, but clearly the weekend has produced some traction. More talks expected over next day or two.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 17, 2020
According to multiple sources, it seems like a round robin format would be used among each division and the results would be added to the overall season standings to seed the playoffs.
The Canucks will qualify and will have to battle among the other bubble teams of the Western Conference to move onto the playoff series. So, let’s see how Vancouver compares to the five teams in the West bunched up around them in the standings.
It’s been a weird and disappointing season down in the desert.
Arizona was the league’s sixth-best team after 30 games, when they had a 17-9-4 record and led the Pacific Division. Since then, the team had posted a record of 16-20-4 over the last three months of the regular season.
A large part of those struggles was due to the absence of starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who was injured in mid-December and had recently returned to the Coyotes lineup a few weeks before the season was stopped. He was possibly the Vezina favorite before the injury, posting a 2.22 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
In terms of their current injury situation, former Canuck Brad Richardson underwent hip and groin surgery a few days after the pause in March, so his status for a return could be in doubt. Outside of Richardson however, this should be a healthy team, like most teams in the NHL coming out of the multiple-month long break.
In the regular season, the Canucks split 2 meetings at home with the Coyotes, winning 3-1 on January 16 and losing 4-2 on March 4. The teams were set to meet on the NHL’s day of reckoning March 12, but obviously it wasn’t meant to be.
On paper, these two teams stack up relatively evenly, with the Canucks holding the edge in offense as they outscored Arizona by 33 goals (228-195) in the regular season. Defensively however, Arizona has an edge of 30 goals against (187-217).
The Canucks and Coyotes play contrasting styles. Vancouver prefers the run-and-gun, whereas Arizona likes to slow the game down and win by scores of 2-1 and 3-2.
However, seeing as the Canucks have struggled this season with similarly-minded teams (losing all meetings with Dallas and Columbus), I’m not sure if I’m overly confident in Vancouver matching up well against the Coyotes.
After the Bill Peters saga early in the season and a 10-12-3 start, Calgary had no choice but to make a coaching change, installing former assistant Geoff Ward into the head coaching role. Since then, they have put up a record of 26-15-4, which looks good on paper but has been rather streaky, including two stretches of losing six of eight over the course of Ward’s tenure thus far.
After finishing first in the West last year, expectations were high for this year’s Flames, but the team just hasn’t really lived up to them.
Notably, Johnny Gaudreau has been well under a point-per-game this season (58 PTS in 70 GP) after finishing with 99 points last year to go along with some MVP votes. Additionally, last year’s Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano has fallen from 74 points to just 31 so far.
Statistically, the Flames have been pedestrian in both goals for (20th) and goals against (16th), but have been held up on through their power play (12th) and penalty kill (8th).
In three meetings against Vancouver, Calgary has taken four of six possible points, including a 3-0 win in the 2nd game of the season on October 5th at the Saddledome and a 6-2 win on February 8 at Rogers Arena. Vancouver’s victory came on December 29th in Calgary by a final score of 5-2.
Despite the underwhelming season so far for the Flames, the season series has proven it, they should always scare Canucks fans. Calgary has been a nemesis of Vancouver for decades, so they’re a team that I’ll never be fully confident against.
The Wild have proven to be one of the most resilient teams in the NHL this season, staying right in the thick of the playoff race through both an abysmal start and a mid-season coaching change.
Expectations were low for Minnesota this season, as the team has an aging core and looked to be in need of a rebuild lead by first-year general manager Bill Guerin.
Early in the season, the critics seemed to be right, with the Wild sitting at a record of 6-11-1 on November 13. Since then however, they have been 29-16-6, including a record of 12-5-1 in their last 18 games before the great pause.
The team has done it largely by committee, but has relied on the breakout season of Kevin Fiala to help keep them afloat in the race. The 23-year old Swiss forward has registered 54 points in 64 games so far this year.
As mentioned previously too, the Wild switched their bench boss from Bruce Boudreau to Dean Evason on February 14 and have not skipped a beat since.
They’re a team that doesn’t do anything particularly well, but also isn’t terrible in any particular facet of the game, which has certainly played into their ability to have stayed in the race for so long this year.
Against Vancouver, the Wild have taken 2 out of 3 meetings this season, including a 4-2 win in St. Paul on February 6 and a 4-3 shootout win on February 19 in Vancouver. The Canucks’ lone win was back on January 12 in Minnesota by a final of 4-1.
While the Canucks are better statistically both offensively and defensively, it would be wrong to sell one of the peskier teams in the NHL short. Minnesota has proven they can take down anyone in the league on any given night, so it’s right to be wary of the Wild.
Similarly to Calgary, the Predators are a team which has substantially underachieved this season.
Entering the year as the two-time defending Central Division champs, they were expected to compete for another division title this year.
However, it has been somewhat of a tumultuous go for the Preds, who, like the Flames and Wild have also made a coaching change this season.
Peter Laviolette was fired on January 6th with the team sitting at 19-15-7, and ex-Devils head coach John Hynes has lead the club to a respectable 16-11-1 under his watch, but the team hasn’t fully turned the corner.
It looked like the Preds would be in for a dogfight to make the playoffs the remainder of the season, and the pause and new possible format could be a welcome development for possibly the greatest underachieving team of this season.
Surprisingly for a team that has been so strong in it for nearly its entire existence, the issue this season has been goaltending for Nashville. The Preds sit 18th overall in goals against.
Additionally, Pekka Rinne has extremely uncharacteristic statistics of a GAA of 3.17 and a save percentage of .895, possibly showing signs of aging at last.
The Canucks have simply had Nashville’s number this year. winning all three meetings this season by scores of 5-3, 6-3, and 6-2. In the 6-3 win on November 21, Vancouver scored five powerplay goals in the victory. On the season, Vancouver has gone 10/14 on the power play against the Predators.
I don’t know if it’s the lopsided results of their head-to-head meetings, but I’m the most confident in the Canucks against the Preds. Vancouver has enough offensive firepower to expose Nashville’s suddenly suspect goaltending, along with the fact that something just seems off with the Predators this year.
Lastly, we have the team that has totally dominated the Canucks in recent seasons, the Winnipeg Jets.
Coming into the season, Winnipeg was expected to fall in the standings due to their loss of their top 2 defensemen, Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien. Despite looking shaky at various points this season, the Jets seemed to have successfully weathered the storm and were even rounding into form when the virus hit.
In their last 19 games coming into the break, Winnipeg was 12-5-2, and their two victories over the Canucks came before they seemed to find their game in February and March.
Also rounding into form was goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who was in the Vezina conversation all season. Hellebuyck had posted six shutouts and a save percentage of .922 before the break.
In the two wins over Vancouver, which both came in Winnipeg, the Jets outscored the Canucks 8-1 (scores of 4-1 and 4-0). This is a team which has owned the Canucks lately, winning their last ten meetings over Vancouver dating back to late 2016.
With a track record such as that, the Jets are a team that I want the Canucks to avoid at all costs. It’s just a bad matchup for Vancouver, as we’ve seen again and again, ten straight times in fact.
Overall, against the other “bubble” or “fringe” teams, the Canucks have compiled a record of 6-6-1 this season. This is the subset of teams which most concerns me with Vancouver.
The Canucks seem to overachieve against the league’s top teams and take care of business against the bottom feeders, but have historically faltered against teams like the Jets, Wild, and Coyotes.
However, we have to remember that all of these teams will be fully healthy if the league returns, and that includes the Canucks and of course, Jacob Markstrom.
Marky was playing well enough to be put in the Vezina conversation before his injury, so we should be able to say the Canucks can beat anyone if he plays as well as he did back in January and February.
We’ll see how it all shakes out. Let’s just all hope the new format doesn’t result in the Canucks playing the Jets anymore, we know how that ends, and it’s not good.