There’s bad hockey, and then there’s whatever the hell the Vancouver Canucks are doing right now.
Now past the quarter pole of this shortened 56-game NHL season, the Canucks are 3-9-0 against teams not named the Ottawa Senators.
It’s been an unmitigated disaster on so many levels, and it’s gotten to the point where both the coaches and the players are running out of excuses. Hell, Travis Green was so desperate that he threw Loui Eriksson into the line-up as a desperation move.
After four straight blowout losses, things are once again looking bleak for this team, just one season after it looked like they had finally righted the ship.
During the offseason, I wrote about the collapse of the 2017-18 Oilers and drew parallels to the Canucks. So far, this team looks primed to end up with the same fate as those lowly Oilers.
Like those Oilers, the Canucks are a one-line team that can score goals, but that’s about it. However, the dumpster fire that is their defence is next-level bad, and it’s hard to envision a drastic improvement at this point.
Warning signs from 2020
I think it’s abundantly clear that this point that the Canucks success in the 2020 playoffs was a mirage.
I don’t want to take too much away from them because they were better than the St. Louis Blues, but that series win, coupled with goaltending heroics, masked the glaring issues with this team.
We all saw the Canucks get annihilated against a fast, forechecking team in the Vegas Golden Knights. Without the other-worldly goaltending, the Canucks would have been done after five games.
This trend of bleeding shot attempts and high danger chances was happening in last year’s playoffs as well. Enthralled with the Stanley Cup chase, we all seemingly ignored it.
Or, at least management did.
Right now, even the “best” Canucks defensively are below the league average. The average NHL team is giving up 52.3 shot attempts against in 2020-21. Zack MacEwen is the best Canuck, with the team giving up 54.3 shot attempts while he’s on the ice,
The warning signs were there in the playoffs too. No one on the team had a shot attempt differential above 48%, and no regular player was on the ice for less than 60 shot attempts against per-60.
Green’s desperate line-up gymnastics point to a massive personnel problem with this team.
It starts on defence. Tyler Myers was the prized free-agent acquisition in the 2019 offseason. He plays more than any Canuck at even-strength despite the fact that he a turnover machine.
Tyler Myers trying to cover his man without causing any chaos pic.twitter.com/VLWzeM4RZe— Mr Booth (@MrBooth_7) February 8, 2021
No NHL team has an expected goals-for below 2.81. Myers is at 2.92. Oh, and he’s 31-year-old and signed for four more seasons.
Myers is part of an aging defence that has trouble keeping up with fast-paced teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. You can throw guys like Jordie Benn, Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic into the mix as older guys who just can’t keep up with the current NHL pace.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the rookies in Jalen Chatfield and Olli Juolevi. Both have had okay moments, but Chatfield looks less like an NHL player with each passing game. The jury is still out on Juolevi, mainly because the coaching staff doesn't trust him.
And, at the top of the depth chart, Quinn Hughes has continued to pile up the points, but teams are now checking him as they did in the 2020 playoffs. He has almost no time with the puck in his own end, and he’s not being supported by either his defence partner or the forwards.
Oh, and none of the Canucks forwards know how to play defence either. That was evident in the playoffs, and it’s been exacerbated by the fact that the Canucks top line is spending way too much time in their own end.
It feels like every forward has been drinking from Jake Virtanen’s Gatorade bottle.
Why you can’t let coaching off the hook
One of the most common refrains I’ve heard recently is that you can’t really blame this on Green and the coaching staff.
At some point, you cannot just shrug your shoulders and blame the personnel and management for failing to play defence. If you look at the most recent Stanley Cup Champions, what do you notice among their collective forward and defence groups?
They. play. defence.
Roster turnover and bad personnel isn’t always an excuse. Take the Boston Bruins for example. They lost Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara in the offseason, but they still have the lowest expected goals against in the NHL right now. That, despite the fact that 23-year-old Jeremy Lauzon, who had 35 games of NHL experience heading into the season, is second on their team in ice time. They also have another rookie in Jakub Zboril playing right now as well.
The Canucks play an uptempo, run and gun style that is fun to watch. It is decisively less fun to watch when your team gives up an average of four goals per game.
How bad have the Canucks been defensively?— Jason Brough (@JasonBroughTSN) February 8, 2021
Well, remember the '80s? pic.twitter.com/lKYJ366I5i
At some point, the Canucks coaching staff needs to figure out a way to get this group to tighten it up. The uptempo style only works if you have the puck.
Why you can’t let Benning off the hook
Because...Benning didn’t even let himself off the hook earlier this week.
It’s been a season of ultimate revenge from the likes of Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli and Leafs assistant coach Manny Malhotra. Of those four, it’s Toffoli who stands out as the one that got away.
He admitted as much last week when talking to The Province’s Ben Kuzma, in a typical Benning moment where he said more than he should have.
“It was our intention to try and get him signed and if we could have had a little more time, we could have tried to work through that,” Benning said to The Province. “It got to a point where I know Tyler wanted to come back and we were trying to figure it out.
“We kind of ran out of time with him getting offers and one he needed to take. We would have had to move money out.”
The time excuse is ludicrous. So is the fact that $25 million of the Canucks cap is tied up in Loui Erikson, Sven Baertschi, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tyler Myers.
It’s clear right now that the Canucks are an unmitigated disaster. When that happens, everyone can shoulder some blame.