For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Vancouver Canucks are not in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Bruce Boudreau said last September that missing the playoffs would be a disaster for the Canucks. Disaster is one of the words you could describe the 2022-23 season for the Canucks.
They started very badly. By mid-November, they were 4-9-3 and that was the worst start of a season by the team since the 1997-98 season. The penalty kill was just as bad, actually, worse than the season before. The Canucks PK finished dead last in the league at 71.6%.
Speaking of Boudreau, he was fired in January but he and the rest of the hockey world knew it was coming for weeks. The Canucks organization was heavily criticized by fans and media for their treatment of Boudreau. The last image of Boudreau behind the Canucks bench was him getting emotional as he got serenaded by “Bruce, There it is” chants.
President of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin replaced Boudreau with Rick Tocchet, an old buddy from their days with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There were lots of ugly stories surrounding the Canucks this past season. Those were on and off the ice. Those include JT Miller’s angry outbursts, the ongoing situation with Tanner Pearson’s injured hand and the goaltending being poor, We can’t also forget Rachel Doerrie being fired in September and filing a human rights complaint and the Aquilini child abuse allegations.
But there were some good things. Elias Pettersson became the first Canuck to hit 100 points (102) since Daniel Sedin had 104 in 2010-11. (Won the Art Ross that season.) Quinn Hughes hit 76 points which were a new career high and took his defensive game to a different level. It is safe to say Pettersson and Hughes are among the NHL’s elite.
If Andrei Kuzmenko was a few younger, he would have won the Calder Memorial Trophy by a landslide. The 27-year-old shared the team lead in goals with 39 and hit 74 points which were fourth on the team.
Oh yeah, the Canucks were 20-12-4 under Tocchet. That is 12th in the NHL during that period. Sure, the Canucks played with more structure but don’t let that fool you. It’s good that the Canucks have structure but the bump under Tocchet isn’t the real Canucks. This team is still far away from being a contender
Tocchet, an easier schedule and the return of Thatcher Demko in goal propelled the Canucks to finishing 22nd in the NHL. That gave them the 11th best odds to win the draft lottery. That is a 3% chance to draft North Vancouver phenom, Connor Bedard. Instead of meaningful wins in March, we got meaningless wins in March.
So…now what? Looking ahead to the offseason for the Canucks
Where do the Canucks go from here? Just like in past seasons, we are asking the same thing.
There are a lot of questions surrounding this team. Will they be a buyout or two? Will Brock Boeser and/or Conor Garland get traded to create cap space? What about JT Miller? Is his future clear? Will there be a captain next season? Can they extend Pettersson this offseason?
If you were playing NHL 23, you could fix the Canucks rather easily. But Allvin and his crew aren’t playing NHL 23 so it’s easier said than done.
Let’s face it, the Canucks will not rebuild but stick with a retool. You won’t like it but it is what it is.
This team needs to get back into the playoffs next season. But at this moment, it doesn’t look like they can. This city is starving for playoff hockey and of course, a Stanley Cup. We haven’t had a playoff game at Rogers Arena since 2015. Bo Horvat, who was traded to the New York Islanders last January was a rookie when the Canucks last played a playoff game at Rogers Arena.
Cap space was mentioned above. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers have massive contracts and have been among the worst defencemen in the NHL. It is also no secret that the Canucks need to upgrade the blue line as well. Kyle Burroughs and Christian Wolanin are decent depth guys but you can’t have them in your top four. Akito Hirose has looked fine in a small sample size but don’t expect him to be a top-four guy next season.
OEL is a buyout candidate but that would have huge cap implications for the next eight seasons if they buy him out this summer. Myers has one year left in his deal and over the past year, there has been interest in him on the trade rumour front. There probably would be interest in the summer and if they are getting offers, the Canucks have to simply pick the best one and pull the trigger.
One player I would bring back is Ethan Bear but only if the price is reasonable. Sure, he can make glaring mistakes but he is good at retrieving the puck and breaking it out of the defensive zone. Bear is a decent top-four to a top-six guy and I’d like to see him stick around for another two years.
I’m a big Brock Boeser defender. That is not just because of his hair or how much of a good guy he is off the ice but I’ve always liked the way he plays. Sure, he isn’t fast or the sniper he once was in his rookie season but I liked how he has evolved into a playmaker in recent years.
But I feel like it is best for Boeser and the Canucks to part ways. They have a lot of wingers and need help not at defence but need a right-handed centre and of course with the cap. Boeser carries a 6.6 million dollar cap hit and the Canucks would likely have to retain parts of his salary in a trade. It is best for both parties. Perhaps what Boeser needs is a fresh start and surely he would blossom elsewhere.
The Canucks are once again stuck in a pickle. After a disastrous season, once again cap space is needed and the prospect pool is still quite bare. Feels like Groundhog Day right?
“It’s way different,” said Miller on what is different this year compared to last at the year-end media availability per Dan Riccio of Sportsnet 650. “The plan is more clear.”
We’ll see what the plan is over the next few months. Well, if there is one.