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First Quarter & Change Report: Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks have probably been the biggest disappointment in the Canadian division from the outside looking in. Despite the success in the Return to Play, many feared that the rash of Free Agent departures, and some regression to it’s young core would hurt this team. Of course it did, and some of the adversity this team has faced was to be expected, but even the most pessimistic of fans have to be scratching their head.

Before getting started, don’t forget to check out the previous segments as we take a look at the entire Canadian division.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Ottawa Senators
Calgary Flames
Edmonton Oilers

FORWARDS

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Management did the forwards no favours this off season. The team’s top 6 appeared to be finally settling in, but whether it was over confidence or a lack of foresight, this group was not set up for success. The Canucks have one of the top young cores up front but they are being asked to do far too much.

Let’s start with the good, Brock Boeser has been on fire to start the season. The team’s only Point per Game player has been everything the team hoped he would be coming into the season. He is one of the top goal scorers in the league, while also sitting top 10 in the league in overall points.

His linemates, Elias Pettersson and JT Miller both got off to rough starts (JT started the year on the COVID list), but have since found their game. Pettersson is slowly getting back to his full offensive form, he just needs to figure out the post/crossbar issue in his game. Miller is far more important to this team’s success than people want to give him credit for. You can argue Chicken vs Egg, but the fact remains that when Miller is going, it makes life easier for Pettersson.

While the Lotto line tends to do the majority of the scoring, Bo Horvat‘s play should not be overlooked. The team’s defacto first line lacks the firepower the team needs to be successful. Horvat is doing everything he can to carry this line, but he will need some help.

Hoglander has been a very nice addition to Horvat‘s wing. The rookie is making the most of his opportunity as he ranks 4th in rookie scoring this year. His Points per Game is half that of leader Kaprizov, but his role on the team continues to grow. I was worried that he was being rushed, considering the good that could have come from staying with Rogle BK. However, he has proved me (and I would assume many others) wrong by proving he belongs on this team.

The problem with the first line is that Tanner Pearson does not fit. He played well in the Playoffs when this line included Tyler Toffoli, but Hoglander is not that player yet. Pearson has the ability to compliment two highly skilled players, but he cannot carry this line through rough patches. He would likely slot better as a bottom 6 given this roster, but the team has no money to acquire a replacement.

Outside of a few bright spots, the bottom 6 of this team has been a nightmare. Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle continue to be solid bottom of the roster Centers, but they have no help. Tyler Motte was on absolute fire before his injury. Initial diagnoses has him out until mid- to late March. His 5 goals on the season are more than he had all of last season and despite the missed time and he still ranks 4th in hits in the league (Quanthockey.com).

Outside of Motte, the Canucks have no bottom 6 wingers worth talking about at this point. To make matters worse, these players have some of the team’s richest contracts. Loui Eriksson ($6M), Antoine Roussel ($3M) and Jake Virtanen ($2.55M) have all spent time on the 4th line and account for $11.55M or 14.1% of the total cap!

The management of this roster has been horrific. As a Habs fan it feels like every bad decision Bergevin made in his tenure, was made by Benning this summer. Rushed his core, check. Depleted prospect pool for immediate results with no player retention plan, check. Invest a bunch of money in short sighted contracts to win now despite no real shot at a Cup, check!

Good thing this core has way more talent, because they will need to dig themselves out together.

DEFENSE

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Similar problems plague the defense core as the forward group for this team. Quinn Hughes went 12 rounds with Makar for the Calder last season. His reward from the team? They let his partner walk, leaving Hughes is left to take the lead by himself. His surface level numbers have been great, he is basically a Point per Game player and a Power Play (PP) specialist. The problem is that other team’s are scoring on him faster than he can produce.

Nate Schmidt was brought in to provide some support for Hughes. Schmidt has been solid but not great. He is far below his Half Point per Game average from the previous couple of seasons, and has not produced on the PP as originally hoped. However, it is the defensive side of his game that has gone relatively unnoticed. He has been forced into a lot of minutes against top competition and has been the team’s best defenseman in this aspect. He seemed to be playing a little outside of his game to start the season, but has since settled into his role and is playing much better because of it.

Alex Edler has been his reliable self, but the offensive production continues to slide. He’s transitioned into a more defensive roll and I like him beside Schmidt to allow him some offensive freedom.

Jordie Benn is so easy to love. He was one of my favourite players during his time with the Habs. He is a no maintenance defeseman that has an ability to quietly produce at 5v5. He provides support for his partner and never strays too far out of position. He is the closest type of defenseman they have to Chris Tanev and I like that he’s getting time next to Hughes.

Juolevi has struggled to find his feet this season, but has gotten better of late. The team and fans alike still have high hopes for the former 5th overall pick, but his offense just has not been there yet. He may be the only youngster properly insulated on this roster, and the team seems to be content allowing him to work his way towards becoming a professional.

Tyler Myers‘ grade may seem low given his point totals, but his defensive play drastically drags down his overall game. He loves to throw his body around to disrupt the cycle, but he is incredibly inefficient in his own zone. Taking a step back from this roster, Myers was and is expected to be a veteran presence to solidify the back end. Something he has failed to do.

This group as a whole has gotten better of late, but significant improvement will be needed if they hope to make a push for the playoffs.

GOALTENDING

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No matter which way you try to break it down, the Canucks miss Jacob Markstrom. No point crying over spilt milk, but this season has taught us that he was masking a few issues to say the least. Demko and Holtby have not been all bad, they have stolen a few games for this team, but these were all to make up for previous bad games.

Sometimes it is too easy to get caught up in the hype of the playoffs. Demko is a prime example. What he was able to do when coming in for Markstrom in the playoffs was nothing short of incredible. However, it was not fair to assume he would be able to extrapolate that play over an entire NHL season.

Anyone expecting Holtby to be the saviour has not been watching his game recently. He still has stretches where he looks like the goalie that helped lead the Capitals to a Stanley Cup. The problem is that he has been far too inconsistent. He has been left hanging on a number of occasion, however, Holtby‘s play has been nothing more than that of an above average back up.

This is no where near enough if this team wants to find their way back into the Canadian peleton heading into the playoffs.

OVERALL GRADE: C-

The Canucks are one year removed from having the deepest playoff run of any Canadian team. They seemed to be turning the corner after years of losing during their rebuild. The core of this team is way too young and skilled to be counted out this early into the season but they will need to do something quick.

Taking a look at this team from a financial standpoint, their backs essentially seem up against a wall. They have very little wiggle room, and will desperately need to shed some cap over the next couple of years. Unfortunately this may be a lost season for a team that once had so much promise.

If you are looking for more hockey talk, check out the latest episode of Weekly Sauce! Terry and Alex the Intern welcome Josh and Lambros from the Drive for 25 Podcast. The boys talk all things Habs this week, diving deep into the team and the all-Canadian division!

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