Friday, August 21, 2020 felt like a monumental day in the trajectory of the Canucks’ young core. They have just finished off the defending Stanley Cup champion with authority in six games, with the final game being a 6-2 trouncing of the Blues.
The hockey world is starting to take notice that something is happening on Canada’s West Coast:
Canada’s team, the Vancouver Canucks, impressively into the second round. Again, I’m seeing a little 2009 young Blackhawks in this Canucks squad.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) August 22, 2020
While I don’t agree that Canada would ever fully get behind the Canucks, LeBrun does have a point in that this feels like the start of something greater for the franchise. No, I’m not expecting a Cup run this year, but the Canucks are playing with house money and absolutely no pressure going forward (especially considering there’s no fans in the stands).
The two centerpieces of this franchise, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes have lead this team to their first best-of-7 playoff series win in their first try, each before reaching his 22nd birthday. That’s something that can’t be ignored, considering their opponent was a drastically more experienced championship squad.
Elias Pettersson's numbers this postseason via NST:— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) August 22, 2020
•7 penalties drawn, 1 taken
•Canucks up 8-3 with him on the ice at 5v5
•5 multi point games, 4 of which have come in past 5 games
•Ridiculous highlight reel that I'll drop tomorrow morning
#Canucks Quinn Hughes:— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) August 22, 2020
4th rookie defenceman in history with 10 points in his first 10 playoff games
So, is this the start of a prolonged run of success including possibly, their first title in team history? Or is it just another one of many teases in Canucks history?
We can look back over recent NHL history to get some insight.
Who the Canucks Hope to Replicate
Those 2009 Chicago Blackhawks were lead by 21-year old Jonathan Toews and 20-year old Patrick Kane, the same ages as Pettersson and Hughes. That team made a run to the Western Conference Finals, with series wins over the Flames and these Canucks before falling to the defending champion Red Wings in five games.
From that loss, they only went on to win three Stanley Cups in the next six years. Now I’m not saying that’s what these Canucks will do, not at all. There are just too many examples to the contrary.
What the Canucks want to avoid
Remember back in 2017 when the Oilers won in the First Round and the entire hockey world thought they were about to begin their reign over the rest of the NHL? Well it’s now three years later and they haven’t even made it as far as the First Round since.
How about the Leafs? In their first year with the core of Matthews, Marner, and Nylander in place they went from last place in the league the year prior to within 2 games of taking the President’s Trophy winning Caps out. What have they done since? Just like the Oilers, they’ve failed to win a round.
Since the Leafs last playoff series victory, Vancouver has:— CanuckSkate (@CanuckSkate) August 22, 2020
- Retooled from the WCE era
- Hosted an Olympics
- Been to a Stanley Cup Final
- Rebuilt from the Sedin era
- Returned to the playoffs and beat out the defending champs in their first go
Going back a little further, the Flames looked like they were becoming the next young core to watch after taking out the Canucks in six games in 2015’s First Round. Well guess what? They too haven’t won a playoff round since.
The Flames, Leafs, and Oilers show that early playoff success with a young core doesn’t guarantee anything. These teams should serve as cautionary tales to Jim Benning as he manages the Canucks through the coming years.
How are the Canucks different?
The NHL just has too much unpredictability and parity to project may happen with these Canucks over the course of the next five to 10 years. But unlike the Oilers, Flames, and Leafs of the last half decade, they have a few things working in their favor that those teams don’t.
First, they have a bona-fide franchise defenseman in Hughes, an ingredient that every Stanley Cup champion seems to include. Secondly, and almost just as importantly, they have a certain number one goaltender who has shown Vezina-potential in Jacob Markstrom.
Lastly, they have a coach in Travis Green who has only ever coached the Canucks and has looked over this young core the entire time they’ve donned the green and blue together.
Whatever happens in the next round against Vegas and possibly beyond, consider this. This is an extremely unique time in Canucks history.
This deep of a collection of young talent has never been assembled in such a short period of time in team history. They’ve essentially grown up together. Now, they’re winning for the first time together, and the amount of confidence that can create for a young bunch could be dangerous for the rest of the league.
For now, let’s just wait and see. For the first time since maybe 2011, full-on hope is back for Canucks fans. Who would’ve thought that 2020 would also bring this development?