The Vancouver Canucks playoff hopes – officially – are over. With that in mind, we can look at their last, hectic week with an eye to the future. A review of the past season can wait until the regular season is actually over. What can we expect from a team that’s facing seven games in four cities over ten days since elimination? Using the games against the Winnipeg Jets as a basis, there are a few ideas.
No Vancouver Canucks Playoff Run – So What?
Obviously, the team and fans wanted to build off last year’s improbable run in the bubble. Just as obviously, that didn’t happen. Of course, not everyone expected a playoff berth with the trade-off of Eastern Canada for California. So letting that disappointment go, what is going to happen with the team until this interminable season drags itself to a halt? Well, that depends.
With an offer apparently finally made to coach Travis Green, he remains unsigned – not that he’ll talk about it, of course. He’s still a “lame duck” coach at the end of a down year. That’s going to affect what he does with his players. On the plus side, he’s not – or at least he shouldn’t – be trying to win at all costs. He’s not pushing for the playoffs, and with the stupidly packed schedule, he’s not likely to play anyone 25+ minutes on any given night. He’s got the freedom to experiment a little, and that should give us some interesting looks.
Play the Kids! and Other Battle Cries
One of the more interesting developments is the use of Jack Rathbone on the power play. It’s a rare thing to see two defencemen there now, especially as Vancouver uses a 1-3-1 format. With Elias Pettersson out, the team has been struggling to be a threat. Having a mobile, thoughtful Rathbone in his place for the May 10th match against Winnipeg was a new look and one that showed he wouldn’t be out of place there. He had Quinn Hughes as a partner, so it’s not like he was the point man. Still, what the player on the boards needs primarily is the ability to read plays quickly. Rathbone has that.
A couple more prospects are going to get their shot in the next week, including Jonah Gadjovich who’s built himself into a net-front presence. He’s not the fastest skater, but if he gets to ‘his’ spot, then he can fill a role the team doesn’t really have. If he can bring some of the touch that’s resulted in 15 goals in just 19 games, that wouldn’t hurt either. His physicality is joining Kole Lind being a general pain in the ass to play against, and they’ll have a third when Will Lockwood dresses. In short, this could be a preview of a large part of the Canucks bottom-six in the next two years. Should be interesting.
Less More is More
No one likes to think that they lost a deal, whether you’re buying a car or swapping NHL players. And Matthew Highmore looks like a decent enough player of a style the Canucks frankly need: a cheap penalty-killer. Pretty good speed, too! But what he isn’t is a productive top-six forward. Unlike, well, you-know-who. It’s one thing to give a new arrival a shot, but Highmore’s most frequent partners have been Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. That’s Vancouver’s erstwhile second line with Nils Höglander. We can’t expect that to be the starting lineup next year, or something will have gone horribly, horribly wrong. Speaking of that second line…
What, No Calder?
Höglander has been an excellent addition, stepping into the lineup as a rookie straight from Rogle BK and not missing a beat. With 12 goals and 26 points in his first 50 games, he brings a high-energy attack that’s been lacking from Vancouver’s middle-six. Even if, for now, he’s been promoted to the top line in Pettersson’s absence. Canucks fans may be a bit spoiled after years of Brock Boeser and Pettersson and Hughes, but still not a bad debut for a mid-second pick. He’s getting some regular power-play time now, and that should be a regular happening from here ’til close. His defence needs work, and it may end up that he’s one of the players who defend by simply not letting opponents rest with the puck. That works, too.
Without a doubt, the net is now Thatcher Demko‘s. Bringing in a veteran when Jacob Markstrom walked was a perfectly reasonable precaution, but the good news is that he’s now a $4.3 million backup for one more year. Braden Holtby might get picked by the Seattle Kraken, given who else is available from the team, but that’s not something to rely on. Frankly, unless Holtby blows the doors off in his remaining three (probably) games, there are better options elsewhere. The last seven games are most likely back and forth between the two, but there’s no question who’s starting next year.
Looking Forward to Forwards
Yes, the Vancouver Canucks playoff chances are done. But at least one of their biggest issues over the past few seasons shows signs of going away, and that’s getting effective, reasonably priced replacements into the bottom-six. This is moving the team’s top prospects (less Vasiliy Podkolzin) out of the prospects category, but that’s going to happen sometime, isn’t it? The tricky bit comes when more fit than there’s room for. But that’s a conversation for another time. For now, this team has a season to finish.
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