End of the line for the Canucks
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
I figured I would wait a few days before blogging about the Vancouver Canucks’ game 7 playoff exit versus the Vegas Golden Knights. You know, let the emotions subside and all that. Now that it’s Labour Day, the sun is shining for once in Terrace and I’ve got a coffee going, it’s time to pen some final thoughts on the Canucks season and their run of bubble hockey…
Let’s start in net because why not? It was already going to be an interesting off-season with Jacob Markstrom an unrestricted free agent seeking a decent raise and, more importantly, term, but it got a lot more intriguing with Thatcher Demko’s outstanding play in the final three games against Vegas. Hanging over the organization is the looming Seattle Kraken expansion draft and it now seems likely the Canucks would lose one of Markstrom or Demko to expansion should both be on the Canucks roster for said expansion draft.
There are a few things I think fans need to keep in mind that may influence the organization’s decision-making. The first is judging goaltenders on small samples. Markstrom’s track record over the last few seasons is clear. To me, he’s a top five goalie in the NHL. Although he is 30, he should still be solid for years to come. We have seen many examples of goalies burst onto the scene playing lights out, only to regress as other teams get more of a book on their weaknesses. (Think Cory Schneider here.) The other huge factor is, if the Canucks decide to go with Demko as their No. 1 next season, are they comfortable with Mikey DiPietro as Demko’s backup? I’d say no to that right now. I also suspect the Canucks like Markstrom for his leadership and other intangibles that he brings to the team. Don’t be surprised if they re-sign Markstrom and entertain trade offers for Demko.
Style of play
I think all Canuck fans can agree the last few games, and especially game 7, were painful to watch as they struggled to generate shots on goal. We can talk about the Canucks being out of gas or question their effort and so on, but look – at some point you have to tip your cap to the other team. That is a heck of a formidable lineup that Vegas puts out there each night. To use the beer league equivalent, it was like a B or C level team entering a tournament in the A division and then being left to wonder why it felt like the opposition had two or three more players on the ice every shift. So often, when the puck was on the stick of a Canucks player they were being swarmed right away and could do nothing but toss the hot potato to the next guy and hope for the best. If they got it out, it wasn’t out far enough to make a full line change. Or, it went for an icing and forced tired players to stay out there. However, I won’t ever fault the Canucks for making defence a priority and resisting the temptation to “cheat” for offence. This was the style of play that got them as far as they did and when they took gambles to generate offence, they were often burned. Recall overtime in game 3 versus St. Louis or the occasions where Alex Tuch was able to get behind the Canucks defence in the Vegas series.
As for the power play, well that’s an easier analysis. It straight up let the Canucks down. It seemed like they ran out of ideas. You won’t get far in the Stanley Cup playoffs when your power play doesn’t score.
My wish list for the offseason
First on my wish list would be for the fans to have a little more faith in general manager Jim Benning. I know he will continue to have detractors but it’s hard to argue with the product that was on the ice these last five weeks. The Canucks boast an exciting young core and there are still decent prospects looking to crack the lineup (hello Nils Höglander). Obviously it would be enormously helpful in terms of cap space if they could find a way to move Loui Eriksson. With only two years remaining on his six-year, $36 million deal it should be at least somewhat feasible. There’s also the possibility of a buyout, but that’s far more of a stretch.
Whatever they end up doing, they need to add speed to this lineup. It was heartbreaking to see them fail to “keep up” with Vegas. I don’t think improving the top six is any more or less a priority than improving the bottom six; they need more out of all of their forwards. I don’t see a scenario where both Tyler Toffoli and Brock Boeser are both with the Canucks next season. And if there’s a bottom six forward who should be concerned with job security, it’s Jake Virtanen. I suspect the organization has seen enough to know what they’ll get from Virtanen going forward.
As for the back end, I really have no major issues with this defence corps. Sure, the Canucks would like to improve in that area but I thought they were pretty solid in the playoff run. Expect restricted free agent Troy Stecher to be back next season. I wouldn’t mind seeing Oscar Fantenberg back in Canucks colours, too. As for Chris Tanev, who is a UFA, the Canucks need to be careful. If he’s willing to take an affordable deal to remain in Vancouver, great, but he’s now 30 and has a lengthy injury history. Being a heart-and-soul guy and leader are definitely of value, but there’s only so much money available to spend. (Note: Tyler Myers is a $6 million cap hit for the next four seasons with Alexander Edler making that much next year as well.)
The fan base
Finally, a quick kudos to the fans from what we’ve gathered from Twitter and chatting with friends. It was really nice to see a positive tone following the Canucks defeat on Friday night instead of the usual finger pointing and looking for a scapegoat. Not a whole lot of second-guessing coach Travis Green either, from what I could tell, despite some areas worthy of critique (e.g. it would have been nice to see Zack MacEwen in the lineup for game 7 and provide some fresh legs). After many years of bitterness amongst the fans and heated debates over various trades, free agent signings and overall managerial philosophy, there’s genuine belief again about the Canucks. Now it’s all about keeping up with other clubs also looking to improve from “pretty good” to Stanley Cup contender.
Of the four teams remaining in these playoffs, I’d be most at peace with the Islanders winning. Their drought is the longest of the remaining teams and, frankly, it would be amusing to see them reach the top of the mountain after former captain John Tavares left for Toronto in free agency. Nothing against Tampa Bay or Dallas, though. As for Vegas, well, I suspect I’m like many hockey watchers out there feeling it’s unjust that a recent expansion team is so good so early in their existence. Plus, any time my team is eliminated, I’m always rooting against the team that’s still going…