There are plenty of Vancouver Canucks questions left to be answered as the season draws to a close. A dozen games aren’t enough to answer them, but they can give us hints.
Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, and the Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have been on a tear of late, much to local Conor Bedard fans’ dismay.
CONNOR BEDARD HAS 70!🚨@WHLPats | #NHLDraft | #CB98 pic.twitter.com/Rs73gGHCta
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 20, 2023
Long-time fans know that Vancouver doesn’t win lottery drafts, though, so they remain focused on the games. What do the games we’ve seen since the trade deadline tell us?
- Elias Pettersson is going to pick up power-play goals now that Bo Horvat is gone;
- Rick Tocchet can coach close games, even if they aren’t as exciting as Bruce Boudreau‘s;
- Boudreau’s opinion on the timing of his firing was probably right – or at least a factor;
- Quinn Hughes is already full value for his contract, and can we get him signed to another right now?
- Thatcher Demko is BACK, baby!
Going into 2022-23, the schedule looked rough. Starting with a five-game road trip stretching from Edmonton to Washington is a lousy way to open. It’s no coincidence that their first win came after a two-day break. Unfortunately, it was Game 17 before they got win number five. It was Game 68 before the Canucks won while scoring fewer than three goals.
Not exactly a full and timely recovery is what we’re saying here.
While playing for draft picks isn’t what the team was hoping for, here they are. And with the worst of the year behind them, they have just enough runway to become optimistic by Game 82. The remaining soft schedule should get them wins and around tenth or so in the draft.
But decisions need to be made. Whether they can – or should – be made on the next dozen games is the question.
The Vancouver Canucks Most Important (Answerable) Questions
In order of importance to their future beyond this season:
Vancouver’s Backup for 2023-24
We’ve seen what happens when Demko is either injured or playing poorly. It isn’t good. It isn’t good at all. And with every backup thrown into the fire, we got more proof that Demko is the team’s future.
Spencer Martin got absolutely shelled, but he suffered behind a group that was, let’s face it, indifferent to defence. He was hired to be the backup and has a two-year contract to prove it.
Collin Delia is the current Man of the Hour and is going to get door-opening duties for the rest of the season. And he’s… fine. Not particularly good, but good enough to get some wins – mostly against weaker teams.
Arturs Silovs is unmistakably the Canucks future. He’s been the best of their options when Demko was out, no question. But given how savagely they – and COVID – mismanaged Michael Dipietro‘s development, the team is going to be cautious.
The Answer: Frankly, this was answered before the season started. Expect Martin to be in Vancouver, not Abbotsford, come October. With NHL teams only getting four non-emergency recalls post-trade deadline, don’t expect to see him this year, though.
Bonus Question: Are the Canucks going to ever get another shutout? Their last one was in Boudreau’s first game with the team in December of ’22!
Pettersson is almost certainly going to hit 100 points this season. As of this writing, he needs a dozen points in his last dozen games, and this season that’s virtually a lock. He’s obliterated his past scoring records with 20 more points than last year.
And, as mentioned, he’s adding power-play goals to that list. That should help his career-low, uh… 14.9% shooting?! Yep, it’s his worst shooting percentage in five NHL seasons that we’re seeing right now. It pales beside frequent linemate Andrei Kuzmenko‘s 27.2%, but what are you going to do?
Vancouver has five players in their history who broke the century mark. Getting another – or even close to it – in such an otherwise miserable year is astounding.*
But you know who else is showing up? Here’s a hint: soon, Adam Fox is going to join a very short list of NHL defencemen to have back-to-back 60-assist seasons in the past three decades.
That list consists of Paul Coffey, Raymond Bourque, and Quinn Hughes.
We said it before the season started, and nothing we’ve seen has changed our minds since. There are still a dozen games to go, but it’s going to be really hard catching Hughes. He’s already outplaying his $7.85 million contract, and it has another four years to go.
His four seasons in Vancouver have him in first, second, thirteenth, and thirty-eighth – when he played just 56 games – in all-time Canucks scoring seasons for defencemen. The chasm between Hughes and every other defenceman on the team is just too much to ignore.
The Answer: Probably Hughes.
Bonus Question: What will Filip Hronek add?
Where the Canucks Will Finish
By all accounts, the NHL Entry Draft of 2023 is a strong one. Unfortunately, the best solution for all of the Vancouver Canucks questions (Conor Bedard) isn’t going to be within reach. Or probably not, anyways.
This season is a front-loaded one for Vancouver. The toughest part of the year happened early, with two five-game road trips being part of 14 of 22 away from home. A nine-loss January sealed their fate, effectively putting even the hope of a playoff push out of reach.
And now, as a reward, comes the easy part. As the calendar flipped over to March, games against the Ducks (3), the Blackhawks (2), the Coyotes (2), and the suddenly-stumbling Flames (2) are highlights. It’s no surprise they are, so far, 7-2 on the month.
The Answer: Given how well the team has played of late, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Canucks won another eight games. That could put them in the low-20s or high teens overall by season’s end.
Bonus Answer(?): Or, in the part that matters, somewhere around here at the entry draft. With a team only able to move up ten spots in the draft lottery, and with vanishingly small odds there, that’s likely where they’ll stay.
The Third-Pair Defencemen
Aaaand here we go! For this to be answered before the season ends, players need to return from being injured. If a decision on their future is pending, it would be good for the head coach to see them play!
This is where the Vancouver Canucks question of what to do with Oliver Ekman-Larsson gets interesting. He is the obvious choice for a buyout during the offseason – but he also has a 280+ game history with Tocchet.
The same can’t be said for Tucker Poolman, who has two years remaining on his four-year deal. Concussions have limited Poolman to just three early-season games this year, but he has skated recently. There is hope he can resume play, but it seems a distant one for now.
Then there’s Travis Dermott, he of the 28 NHL games in two seasons with Vancouver. His current injury is officially “undisclosed” but he was moved to the injured reserve list a month ago. He also has had concussion issues this season and the restricted free agent likely won’t be back this year.
Add the tetrad of players getting a tryout – Guillaume Brisebois, Noah Juulsen, Christian Wolanin, and Kyle Burroughs – and it’s a mess at the NHL level. Juulsen and Burroughs add a distinct physical element on the right side, Wolanin and Brisebois some skill on the left.
The Answer: If Vancouver wants to save money, it’ll be here. But there are way too many health-specific wildcards to predict.
Bonus Question: What about Filip Johansson, Jett Woo, and Jack Rathbone in the AHL?
Close Enough So Far!
Well, we answered three out of four pending Vancouver Canucks questions for the rest of the year. That defence is going to be the subject of many an article between here and October – and it probably won’t stop then.
TL;DR version? Easy! The backup goalie for 2023-24 is Spencer Martin. The Canucks 2022-23 MVP is Quinn Hughes. They’re going to finish around 20th overall this season. And the defence is, as usual, a swirling maelstrom of chaos.
Glad we could help!
*Hat tip to J.T. Miller‘s 99 points last year
Main Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports