Let’s be honest with ourselves: the NHL return to play plan and this year’s playoffs will truly feel bizarre.
Tentative game schedule and times for the first 5 days of the NHL’s return to play and Stanley Cup Qualifiers - no TV listings have been released yet. ( - @NoVa_Caps via NHL API) pic.twitter.com/trAjNjN27q— NHL News (@puck_report2) July 12, 2020
Aside from the fact that the teams will be in hub cities and in front of no fans in this new sports reality, clubs will have not played hockey in four-and-a-half months by the time August 1 rolls around. To put that into perspective, that’s about as long of an offseason as teams that get eliminated in the Second Round in a usual NHL season.
Needless to say, this is a new beginning and a fresh start for all the teams that qualified for the COVID Cup Playoffs. So, it might be useful to look at how the Canucks have started out their seasons with the current core of players.
The Canucks obviously need to hit the ground running or else they won’t be playing again until at least December. Since the first series will be five games at most, we’ll first look at Vancouver’s five game starts and then move on to their records through 10 games in the past five years to see if they can feasibly do some damage past the qualifying round.
Current Canucks on the roster: 5 (Edler, Horvat, Markstrom, Sutter, Virtanen)
Record through 5 games: 3-1-1
Record through 10 games: 4-2-4
This is dating ourselves a little bit, but what I remember most from this season’s first chapter was Adam Cracknell’s blistering start and the Canucks’ ineptitude in the 3-on-3 overtime. They lost their first four tries in the new OT format since the NHL introduced it in 2015.
Overtime loss points kept the Canucks afloat in the standings until around January, when Vancouver made its first of a few yearly plunges in the standings to finish in the West’s basement.
Current Canucks on the roster: 7 (Last 5 + Eriksson, Stecher)
Record through 5 games: 4-0-1
Record through 10 games: 4-5-1
It’s ironic that in the Canucks’ worst season since the 2005 lockout, they achieved their one and only 4-0 start in franchise history. Despite winning their first four games to start, there were some ominous signs that things would quickly go off the rails.
Loui Eriksson put one in his own net in the first game of the year against the Flames, giving us an iconic Canucks GIF. Needless to say, his penchant for scoring into empty nets extends outside of the 2020 version of Loui.
After starting the year 4-0-1, the Canucks quickly showed us who they really were, losing five straight in regulation and getting shut out three times in the process. This was just a strange start to an ugly and hopeless season for Vancouver.
Current Canucks on the roster: 9 (Last 8 + Boeser)
Record through 5 games: 2-2-1
Record through 10 games: 6-3-1
In 2017, the Canucks surprised a lot of fans and analysts as many picked Vancouver to be possibly the worst team on paper in the league.
Brock Boeser had a quiet yet impactful start to his rookie year before really taking off in November, and Anders Nilsson had two shutouts and had a good portion of the fanbase wanting him to be the new Canucks’ starter.
Vancouver stayed in the mix until mid-December when they started their annual free fall, but for the first time in the rebuild, there was tangible hope after witnessing the highlight-reel that was rookie Boeser.
Current Canucks on the roster: 13 (Last 9 + Pettersson, Roussell, Motte, Beagle)
Record through 5 games: 3-2-0
Record through 10 games: 6-4-0
Last year’s Canucks had a weird feeling before the puck dropped on the season as it was sadly the post-Sedin era. Five games into the year however, it was clear that Elias Pettersson would become the new face of the franchise.
Unfortunately Pettersson was taken out by Florida’s Michael Matheson on a cheap shot body slam and had to miss the next five games, but Vancouver was still able to knock off the Bruins and the Golden Knights without their new young star.
Last year’s start showed that real progress was being made in the rebuild, as the Canucks were finally able to play a more exciting brand of hockey, and it was a sneak preview in a way to what they’ve become this year.
Record through 5 games: 3-2-0
Record through 10 games: 6-3-1
This year’s Canucks gave us the first taste of what their complete young core could do together with Quinn Hughes coming into the lineup. Boy, was it a joy to watch in October.
After losing their first two games of the year, the Canucks exploded in their home opener, beating the Kings 8-2 as Hughes netted his first career goal.
The start to the year also included a resilient come-from-behind win in St. Louis, and a 5-goal third period in Detroit where Bo Horvat got a hat-trick. Their 10th game of the year was a 6-5 shootout loss to Washington that was a bit of a microcosm of how the rest of the year would go for Vancouver.
The highs would be high, and the lows would be low as the Canucks transitioned into a run-and-gun team led by their young studs.
Totals (last 5 years combined)
Through 5 games: 15-7-3
Through 10 games: 26-17-7
Looking at the Canucks last 5 years of starts combined, their stats line up with a typical playoff team, even with some of those miserable rebuild seasons included.
They would be on a 97-point pace, having scored an average of 2.76 goals-per-game and have given up an average of 2.60 goals-per-game.
When it comes to the Vancouver core, here’s how they’ve performed within the first 10 games in the 2015-2019 period:
Bo Horvat: 50 GP, 21 G, 9 A, 30 PTS
Brock Boeser: 27 GP, 7 G, 17 A, 24 PTS
Elias Pettersson: 15 GP, 7 G, 11 A, 18 PTS
Quinn Hughes: 10 GP, 1 G, 6 A, 7 PTS
Jacob Markstrom: 24 GP, 13-7-3
All of these are good signs for the Canucks as this has been a core of players which has historically started well. Additionally, the fact that the Vancouver captain and starting goaltender have been with the team throughout this entire period shows the Canucks’ leaders are experienced in starting a new season well.
In the return to play, a bad start would mark the end to your season. As anyone can see, this is a team that has started seasons well the past few years, making the Canucks COVID Cup chances even more intriguing.
We’ll find out if they can continue this promising trend in a few short weeks in Edmonton.