Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

2021 Vancouver Canucks Slow Start Requires Patience

2021 vancouver canucks

In any other year, the Vancouver Canucks being at 6-10 would be an unfortunate start, but not something to panic about. Unfortunately for them, they both raised the bar in the last post-season and have not just “lost” games, but lost them in style. Fans, players, and media (though fewer of those than last week) are alarmed with how they’re losing. The pressure is mounting on the team, whether white- or blue-collar. But before anyone rushes into something, we have some handy advice for them. Tomorrow, what they should do; today what the 2021 Vancouver Canucks shouldn’t.

The 2021 Vancouver Canucks Shouldn’t Panic

Everything else is coming from that. Not the most complicated advice, sure, but worth remembering. A lot of horrible, horrible decisions are made when people are fighting for their jobs – or think they are. So let’s start there.

The Vancouver Canucks Shouldn’t Fire Travis Green

This might be the hardest to get through, given the power to fire the coach rests in the general manager’s hands. Firing the coach is always the big, dramatic move a GM can make to shake up the room. It gets the player’s attention right away, and the fans can look at it as a dramatic play. The problem here is that Vancouver fans are not just a knowledgeable bunch, but cynical to boot. This move is going to be seen as a sacrifice to appease the owners or fans or both. Throwing out the coach who has guided the team through four years of gradual improvement – and let’s not forget where they started – before the 2019-20 playoff run is a bit unfair:

  • The team lost a BIG part of their leadership group in Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev and an unabashed fan of the city in Troy Stecher. They were stabilizing forces on the ice and were seasoned veterans off it, talking to younger players and new arrivals alike. And let’s face it, most players aren’t in an environment like Vancouver until they actually get here.
  • Part of losing a lot of players is welcoming others in. One of the major pieces is Branden Holtby for Markstrom, and while he will improve it’s a whole new system to him, too. Half of the defence is brand new to each other, never mind to the goalies.
  • There is a big stretch of home games coming up, which shouldn’t be overlooked as a chance for improvement. Home games don’t have an audience, but they do have less travel and more practice time. In a season without any pre-season games, that’s worth much.
  • He coaches an entertaining style. Yes, it’s high-risk, but when it works, it’s enjoyable to watch. That counts.

The Vancouver Canucks Shouldn’t Panic Trade

Trades can work, even if a team isn’t dealing from a position of strength. The problem for the Canucks is that the players that fans – and possibly the team itself – want to go are at their lowest value right now. Rumoured deals for Jake Virtanen, for instance, are hard to picture without returning a mediocre price at best. He has attributes that can work well lower in the lineup and others that can hamstring a team. Maybe there’s a coach who thinks he can get more out of the 24-year old winger than Green has. But Green has seen Virtanen up close more than any other coach, and despite tantalizing flashes, he’s never lived up to his abilities.

This obviously folds into the idea of “blowing up” the team. That should be a non-starter, given where the skill lies. Teams might be interested in a few Canucks players, but no one on the team should be eager to lose. The oldest “core” player is captain Bo Horvat at 25 years old. It’s not just a question of somehow replacing the excellent all-around player, but also of getting value for any deal involving him. The Stanley Cup isn’t won with 22-year olds, and any team waiting until their skill players reach their best years all at once won’t be able to afford them.

The players are angry. They are frustrated. And that’s a good sign. The enemy of success is apathy, not anger. This isn’t a season where they are going to get a few days off to reset themselves. Breaking out of bad habits or a downward spiral is going to have to happen on the fly.

The Vancouver Canucks Shouldn’t Dump Salary

There are big contracts coming, and they’re coming this year. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko are all due for their second deal.* In their way lie several cumbersome deals signed over the past few seasons. Getting rid of those deals would make negotiations that much easier for all involved. There may even be a hidden benefit to Pettersson and Hughes sharing an agent we’ve already talked about.

Clearly, the changing financial environment has handicapped Benning to some degree and it shows. He slashed player finances for this season, undoubtedly under owner’s orders, matching off-ice staff pay. It’s a hard year, and no one’s really sure when it will get better. That being said, the Canucks still have to deal with the flat cap and hard financial realities just like every other team. And to ask any other team to take on the salaries Vancouver has would cost a premium. And what would they get from those moves?

Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle are signed for $3 million for one more season past this. Loui Eriksson‘s contract expires at the same time. One payment they can’t trade away, Roberto Luongo‘s recapture penalty is also gone in two seasons. How much should the team give away for the sake of buying themselves a bit more time? This isn’t an either/or decision and can’t be viewed as such. By the end of this year, Sven Baertschi‘s deal ($3.36 million) is done, Ryan Spooner‘s million-dollar buyout ends, Brandon Sutter and Alexander Edler finish their deals. Money is going to be there, even if it means giving rookies a little more room to fail this season.

The Vancouver Canucks Shouldn’t Try Salvaging the Season

Speaking of failure…

Fewer games this season means that every one of them is that much more important. Being four games below .500 at the quarter-point is not a great place to be for any team hoping for the playoffs. To their benefit, reaching that .500 mark should be enough to make those playoffs because they are in the North division. To their detriment, that looks as far away as winning three in every four right now. Thing is, none of this should surprise anyone. The Canucks were always going to be hard-put to make the playoffs this season. While we may have disagreed if they would finish fourth or fifth (or lower) in practice, they could have finished anywhere but were likely ending the year in that bottom half.

So far the Canucks have lost to the best two teams in the division, getting one win in eight games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. Half their wins have come against the Ottawa Senators. That’s not great, but that’s what their closest rivals are going to do, too. Making big deals to do anything other than set themselves up for life after this strange, COVID-afflicted year is tantamount to announcing you can’t see more than two feet in front of your face.

Which just might come up in our next article. Stay tuned!

*Yes, technically, it’s Demko’s third. The deal he’s on now is the one where he established himself as an NHL player, and that’s what matters.

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