October seems so far away right now, doesn’t it? Back then, there wasn’t a horrendous pandemic creating havoc world-wide, and our biggest concern was just what the hell was this hockey team going to do? They hadn’t made the playoffs since 2015, and while there was a growing sense of optimism around the team, they were by no means a slam dunk to take that next step, despite numerous off season changes. As they prepared to head into this 50th Anniversary season, Westy and I offered up our thoughts on how the Canucks would fare this season. Let’s see how they hold up, shall we?
We’ll start with Westy and his Magnificent 7 keys to the Canucks season:
#1 – The powerplay has to be above 20%.
They definitely stepped up this aspect, finishing 4th overall in the league with a 24.2% with the man advantage. They looked downright dangerous at times, and a huge part of this was something that we really hadn’t counted on: the emergence of Quinn Hughes as a PP quarterback. The last couple seasons were frustrating because the PP seemed so one dimensional, but with Hughes and another new addition in JT Miller, they were able to move the puck more, and have a number of lethal options to choose from. It literally won games for them this season.
#2 The PK has to be above 80%.
They made it, but just barely. They were right in the middle of the pack, 16th of the 16 teams that finished with 80% or better with an 80.5% kill rate. It shows that while they were effective, they could and need to be better, and it is all about the team’s defensive weaknesses. They’ll have to be better this post season if they hope to advance.
#3 Petey, Brock and Bo all have to play at least 75 games.
With the season coming to a screeching halt in Game 69 (nice!), for the most part this one was bang on. Cap’n Huncho was present and accounted for in all 69, EP40 missed just one game, and Boeser missed a total of 12, thanks to a concussion suffered in the preseason. While he would have come up a few short, he still played pretty consistently when he returned to the lineup. We’ll give Westy a pass on this one.
#4 Jordie Benn can’t be a 1st or 2nd pair guy.
Well, this one was fairly simple. I don’t think there was ever going to be a situation where Benn was a top pairing DMan barring a spate of injuries, and he struggled to stay in the lineup. He was mediocre at best, and couldn’t keep the also mediocre Oscar Fantenberg from taking his spot more than once.
#5 Besides the players in #3, two other forwards will have to score 20 goals.
This was a pretty impressive call, honestly. While Boeser came out of it with 16, 20 seemed like an inevitability for him. But JT Miller tying for the team lead with 27, and getting 21 from Tanner Pearson (not to mention 18 from Jake Virtanen) was one of the most pleasant surprises about the 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks.
#6 Marky has to play more his last 20 games last year and less like himself at other times of the year.
Once again, pretty much bang on, Westy. Jacob Markstrom was a damn force in goal for the Canucks this season, and they’re not in the playoffs, even with this addition of other teams, without his contributions. It took a while, but they finally got what they were hoping for when they traded away Roberto Luongo. If he can come back and play as well in the post-season, he might be able to help them steal a round or two and let’s face it, a hot goalie in the post season can make a massive difference.
#7 Tyler Motte and Tim Schaller need to stay in the press box.
Finally, something I can mock him for. While there’s no argument about Schaller, who was shipped out of here to Los Angeles along with Tyler Madden for Tyler Toffoli, Tyler Motte (try to stay with us here) was easily the best 4th liner the Canucks had to offer this season. Relentlessly hard working, he just might have earned himself an extension as an affordable 4th line option, especially if the Canucks can shed some salary in the coming months.
Overall, a pretty good read on where the team was heading, though he did say that he felt the team wasn’t going to make the post season, and had hardly secured a spot before the halting of play happened.
And now, on to my predictions.
“Things we should expect: Elias Pettersson hitting 35 goals (and we shouldn’t be shocked if he hits 40). JT Miller and Micheal Ferland will prove to be good pickups by the Canucks. Tyler Myers? Not so much. The bottom 6 will continue to be a source of concern, and while Quinn Hughes will be a beacon of hope on the back end, the Canucks D will continue to keep us awake at night. Oh, and Bo Horvat will be the captain.”
Petey was on his way to 35, and could have made it IMO. As far as Ferland goes, we still don’t really know what we have in him, so maybe we’ll see the playoff Ferland that made life a living hell for the Canucks in 2015 against the Calgary Flames. Other than that, I think I did alright here.
“The power play will be better, the PK will continue to be average, and the Canucks will get solid performances from Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko. And while the team will score more this season, they will still struggle to give their goaltending the kind of goal support they need again this year.”
In my defence, there were few who saw the Canucks putting up the kind of offensive numbers that they did. Finishing 10th in goals for (and the highest G/60 in the Pacific) seemed like a long shot at best. While there were some games where they really struggled to put the puck in the net, other nights it seemed like they could score at will (the Boston game being the best example).
“All of this hinges on their health. If they can somehow avoid the catastrophic injury levels of the past half-decade, there’s a shot. It should be noted that oddsmakers have them at around a 40% chance of making the playoffs. You know, the same as they’re giving the Oilers. I want them to make it, but it will be a genuine surprise if they do.”
I think one of the more impressive parts of the season was how they battled to stay in the hunt for the playoffs in spite of another season of significant man games lost. Some pretty big pieces missed time this season: Ferland playing just 14 games, Josh Leivo getting knocked out for the season in late December with a broken kneecap, as well as Boeser, Markstrom, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Alexander Edler all missing 10 games or more.
“For this team to make the playoffs, a LOT of things will have to go their way. And for a team that is historically known for not getting the bounces, it’s not looking good. That’s not to say they’re gonna end up in the basement this season. They’re gonna get close, but there’s too many teams that are better than them in the West that unless there’s some kind of cosmic shift, the 5th straight postseason miss will be their reality.”
As far as cosmic shift goes, I think a pandemic might just qualify. A lot of things did go right, and they got just enough bounces to at least get a chance to be in the final 16 that will play Round 1. It’s all we asked for, really (and whether it’s a good idea for them to even contemplate playing is another story), so if this happens, here’s to Cinderella not leaving the ball early.