Normally we cover this ground each year, but last season had… issues. This year we’ve got the puck dropped more or less on time, semi-filled arenas, and advertising on helmets is here to stay. All right, the Vancouver Canucks 2021-22 season is not perfect. But it’s certainly better than 2020-21! Let’s see where all the off-season drama has settled.
Canucks Season Underway Uneventfully
Not the most exciting headline, perhaps. But every fan who was asked at the end of September is happy to have it. Two of the Canucks three anchor players are signed, with Thatcher Demko already done in April. One source of perpetual grievances was traded off to the Florida Panthers.* Another was bought out and has ended up in Russia. Then that set of fan favourites was sent off to the Arizona Coyotes, which we’ve been over more than once. You probably heard something about that one, right?
Really, all the usual suspects were pretty much wrapped up by the time the season opened against the Edmonton Oilers. Really, the biggest question marks for the Canucks 2021-22 season are about how well the new guys settle in. You know, what every team goes through. So now with three games (1-1-1) under their belts, how’s it going? Pretty okay, as it happens.
Life on the Road
If you’re a believer in getting the hard part of any job done first, you’re in luck! The Canucks 2021-22 season begins with a six-game road trip from Edmonton to Buffalo to Seattle. Which is actually a nice touch. Having the newest team so close to home can make for a sore point at the end of a gruelling trip, but it also puts a nice little bow on. Besides, they can – and probably will – actually come home for the day before hiking down South. A continuous road trip in name only. Maybe they’ll feel different at the end of the year – especially if they can get a good hate on for each other. One team bumping the other out of the playoffs would get a Canucks – Seattle Kraken rivalry going nicely!
But that’s in another week. The look of the team right now is not bad at all. Starting the season with an absolutely frenzied first period against the Oilers is extremely promising. Overtime and a shootout, a fight, and a too many men bench minor? They’re in mid-season form already! That record of 1-1-1 has a lot of good things in it. There’s little doubt that general manager Jim Benning has his career riding on what happens between now and next June.
On the Attack
The Canucks first goal of the season? Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s. On the power-play, yet. The first goal next game? Vasily Podkolzin‘s. The first goal in game three? Conor Garland. Podkolzin looks like the rookie he is, so hasn’t been getting heaps of ice time just yet and that’s fair. Ekman-Larsson has continued with the confidence he showed in the preseason. He’s physically involved, engaged with the play, and skating well at both ends of the ice. He could well earn that “number one defenceman” description Benning dropped on him.
Garland is everything promised, spectacularly elusive with the puck and loads of offensive skill. It’s an open question where he’ll fit when Brock Boeser comes back. So far, he’s mostly been with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson – Nils Höglander‘s position last season. With Höglander on the top line for now, he might bump Garland down to the third or he could leapfrog to the third himself.
So the new arrivals are holding up their end of the bargain. The ones who are expected to score, at least. How about the ‘other’ three? Jason Dickinson has been comfortable in his clearly defined role of the team’s primary defensive centre. Bearing in mind this is after three games, but his Corsi is at 59.4% and he’s with J.T. Miller on the penalty kill. So he’s doing great at 5-on-5! Just don’t look at the penalty kill bouncing off the floor of the stat sheet.
Tucker Poolman is another controversial defenceman signing from the Winnipeg Jets. Unlike the pure anarchy of Tyler Myers, Poolman is expected to bring calm stability to his ice time. He’s done that to some degree, but being the primary partner of Quinn Hughes certainly helps. In almost 40 minutes together the Canucks scored twice and have zero goals against. He has no points yet himself, but again: three games.
The third goal-stopper is literally that: Jaroslav Halák. With the buyout of Braden Holtby, the Canucks 2021-22 season partially rests on Halák’s shoulders. In his one game, he stopped 18 of 20 shots, which isn’t great, obviously. He hasn’t quite got the level of communication with his defence you’d like to see, but that’s hardly a surprise. The Canucks played well enough to win the game, but they faced a goalie on a tear. The team will need better than a .900 save percentage, but that should come.
Special teams. That’s the long and short of it. The power play is 3-for-12, which is marvellous if it lasts all year. Odds are against that, especially with the slightly disjointed play they have. The Canucks do miss Boeser out there, no offence to Justin Dowling. No, really. With 14 points in four seasons, Dowling isn’t the guy to provide offence.
The penalty kill is even more dramatic, giving up three goals on seven chances. This is where missing Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte really hurts the squad. Juho Lammikko will help, but getting the regulars back will help more.
Just watching the team is right. They could finish at .500 and barely squeak into the playoffs and the fans should be happy. This is the most exciting team to watch Vancouver has put together in years. They are fast, dangerous, irritating to play against, and, well, fun. A two-goal lead going into the third period isn’t safe – for either team. Given the stakes the White Collars have put on this year? The Canucks 2021-22 season is going to be a wild one.