The Vancouver Canucks have gotten through one quarter of their 82 game schedule so far, and that’s probably the nicest way one can assess it. Despite all the assurances heading into this season from GM Jim Benning that the team was going to not only be better, but they would be a playoff team this year, they are not. Not a playoff team, and not better. In fact, some things that this team does are worse than we saw in last year’s nightmare scenario, and even for a management group as perpetually inept as Benning and John Weisbrod have been, it’s still shocking.
After going 4-5-1 in their first ten contests, they’ve now won just two of their latest ten games, a pathetic 2-7-1. And just four wins are in regulation. They’re just as bad on the road as they are at home, with identical 3-6-1 records. They can’t score, which is probably the surprising part given the addition of Conor Garland, Oliver Ekman Larsson and a healthy Elias Pettersson. The problem is that the defence of this team is so bad, it’s literally keeping them from being able to produce offensively. They can’t complete a simple breakout, or clear their zone to generate chances. You can’t score if you’re getting buried in your own end night after night.
And imagine where they’d be without Thatcher Demko? Night after night, the Canucks number one goaltender is giving his team a chance to win, keeping this team continuously hung him out to dry. The right side of this defence is just atrocious. Tyler Myers, who had started the season playing reasonably well partnered with OEL in a shutdown role, is back to doing whatever the hell it is that he does, but it’s not effective defensive play. After that we have Travis Hamonic, re-signed for this season and next at almost 2 million per year, Tucker Poolman ($2.5 Million for the next four years), and the inexpensive replacement level options of Kyle Burroughs and Luke Schenn.
It wasn’t just back end additions that have contributed to this nightmare, either. The fourth line of Jason Dickinson, Juho Lammikko and Alex Chiasson contribute absolutely nothing. They don’t check effectively. They’re not an energy line. They don’t crash and bang. They’re not a threat, offensively or physically. I never thought I would say something like this, but this team misses Brandon Sutter so much right now. That’s how bad this pair is. None of these three should be on an NHL roster given their play, and the sooner they’re jettisoned to Abbotsford in place of literally anyone, the better. I mean, unlike the other pieces that were claimed off the waiver wire when the Canucks tried to move them to their AHL club in favour of these three sentient pylons, no one’s going to snag them, and if they do? Good riddance.
And while a lot of what’s wrong with the Canucks can be traced back to their god awful defence, we cannot understate how much of an impact Elias Pettersson’s struggles are having on this team. The entire top six, apart from JT Miller, who has been their most consistent skater so far this season, are not producing at the level we expect from them, and with Pettersson, it’s getting increasingly worrisome that a player who is so obviously talented has suddenly disappeared, replaced by a player so lacking in confidence that he’s stopped doing all the things that had opposing teams planning their strategies on facing the Canucks on how to stop him.
And it’s not just Pettersson that’s disappointing so far. Brock Boeser with just four goals. And Tanner Pearson, with a pair both need to step it up, and with Pearson, I believe his time as a top six forward in this market should be over. Put him on the third line and give Bo Horvat someone he can actually work with to generate offence. Pearson’s been alright, not spectacular, not terrible, since coming over in the trade for Erik Gudbranson, but to continue to give him top six minutes for increasingly diminishing returns is harming the Canucks.
So what now? After the press conference and another baffling, if somewhat muted vote of confidence from ownership, we’re being told to expect nothing will happen until at the very least, the Canucks come back from this five game road trip. Now, if the Canucks respond with four straight wins, I can understand why they might not want to pull the trigger on Green or Benning. I don’t agree, but I can understand the mindset here. The problem is, you can’t honestly believe that the Canucks are going to go into Columbus and Boston and walk out with wins. Not the way they’re playing right now. No chance in hell. They’re averaging two goals a game over their last six. That is not what winning teams do, no matter how good their goaltending is.
And if you thought this month was rough, December has some bad news for you. Of the fifteen games, seven of them are against divisional opponents. They also have three games against some beasts from the East in Carolina, Columbus and Toronto. January has the Canucks on the road for nine of their fourteen games, including a weekend back to back featuring 10 am and 11 am start times against Columbus and Washington. What absolute garbage from the schedule maker to force Western teams to play that early. That would be akin to making Eastern teams play at 9pm when visiting Vancouver. Or the Leafs at 7pm, but whatever.
February has the All Star and Olympic break, so no genuine opportunity to catch up, with just four games on the schedule. But the schedule maker managed to fit another back to back in there, dog bless ‘em. March has a seven game home stand that ends on a back to back, followed by another one on the road after two days off. Throw in three games against Vegas in April, along with five other divisional games, and that’s it. That’s what this team has coming up, where they need to win around eighty percent of these games to climb out of this hole and into a post season. How can you look at this team, the way it’s constructed, and even think it’s a remote possibility?
This is the sixth lost season out of eight for Jim Benning as General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks, and that he’s currently being allowed to alter this collision course with the bottom is absolutely mind-blowing.