The other day, I ended up talking hockey with someone I had just met.
“Man, I haven’t watched the Canucks since 2011,” the fellow told me.
I think that’s a common refrain around Vancouver nowadays.
Although the memories of downtown Vancouver being packed with Canucks fans feel fresh, those memories are overshadowed by the fact that this team has won one measly playoff series since 2011.
And, as you know, that one playoff series victory came in front of no fans.
It’s been far too long since the Canucks have been relevant. Yes, that lack of relevance has to be attributed to Jim Benning for his flawed approach at building a hockey team, and Francesco Aquilini for his lack of leadership at the top of the food chain.
Although there are new, fresh faces in charge of the Canucks, that doesn’t lower the stakes heading into this season.
Make no mistake. Although this is Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford’s first full season in charge of the Canucks, it’s playoffs or bust time.
Bruce Boudreau has already publicly said it would be a “disaster” if the Canucks missed the playoffs this season.
The skill on this team alone should make this a playoff team, although we know how that’s worked out in years past.
Elias Pettersson is entering his fifth NHL season, Hughes and JT Miller are both in their fourth seasons with the Canucks.
The two longest-tenured players on the team, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat, are entering their sixth and ninth seasons respectively.
There’s continuity up front, and in goal the Canucks boast one of the best netminders in the league.
Between the offensive skill, goaltending and coaching, there should be enough here for this team to make the playoffs.
There’s also enough talent that, should they miss the playoffs again, major changes should be warranted.
Allvin and Rutherford clearly still have some work to do in building a true Stanley Cup contender, but they made some of their first all-in moves this offseason when they doubled down on this core by signing both Brock Boeser and JT Miller to extensions.
They also signaled their desire to win now when they traded a second-round pick to clear a couple million bucks tied to Jason Dickinson.
This city is sick of losing, and it looks like Allvin, Rutherford and Boudreau don’t have the stomach for it either.
However, despite moves that are consistent with winning in the present, the playoffs are no lock for these Canucks.
Most betting outlets basically have the Canucks as a coin flip to make the playoffs. With parity living large in Gary Bettman’s world, the possibilities for the Canucks this season range from surprise contender to basement dweller.
You could see them challenging for a division crown thanks to a potent power play, deep forward corps, and a Vezina caliber-goaltending.
You could also see them spiraling down the standings due to a lack of team speed, a defensive core that’s shaky at best behind Hughes, a rash of injuries because, well, it’s Vancouver, and a forward group that fails to live up to their potential.
I desperately hope that Benning took some of the negative vibes with him when he exited Rogers Arena for good (although the Canucks preseason would have me believe otherwise).
One of these days, I’d like to be writing about playoff wins in front of sold-out crowds at Rogers Arena. I’d like to see our page views creep back up around playoff time because casual fans are back.
And, if you’re here reading this, you also deserve to watch the Canucks return to relevance.
Because hey, if you’ve stuck around since 2011, you damn well deserve to watch some winning Canucks hockey.