it is September and that means it is back to school, back to fantasy football, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong goes to sleep for the whole month and of course, back to Vancouver Canucks hockey.
After another long offseason, Canucks season is upon us. There are 16 days until training camp begins in Victoria.
Some of the Canucks players were back skating in Vancouver including JT Miller, Quinn Hughes, Tyler Myers and new acquisitions Carson Soucy and Teddy Bluegar.
Canucks fans are at the point where they are once again hoping this season is different. After all, they improved their depth with the signings of Soucy, Bluegar, Pius Suter, Ian Cole and Matt Irwin. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes have established themselves among the NHL’s elite and are poised to get even better and Thatcher Demko is healthy.
So there is every reason for Canucks fans to be optimistic heading into the season. But as long-time Canucks fans know, they can disappoint. There are also plenty of reasons to be concerned. After all, missing the playoffs again would be a disaster.
#1: The backup goalie situation
When Demko is healthy, he is a literal wall and puts the team on his back. In the 2020 bubble playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights, the 2020-21 season and the 2021-22 season, he showed that.
Demko got off to a rough start last season. He went 3-10-2 with a .883 save percentage and 3.93 goals against average before going down with a groin injury in early December. The 27-year-old finished the season with a 14-14-4 record, a 3.16 GAA and a .901 save percentage.
But what hurt the Canucks last season was the play of Spencer Martin. Martin went 11-15-1 with a 3.99 GAA and .875 percentage. Speaking of Martin’s save percentage, it was the worst among goalies who played at least 25 games in the NHL last season according to StatsMuse. Not great Bob!
Colin Delia wasn’t much better. Sure he had a better record at 10-6-2 but his save percentage was at 3.62 and his save percentage was at .882.
It seems that Martin is likely going to be the backup to Demko once again this season. However, don’t forget Arturs Silovs who had a solid season with the Abbotsford Canucks last season and has become Latvia’s hero after leading them to a bronze medal and winning MVP at this year’s World Championships.
Silovs is the goalie of the future for the Canucks. But is he ready for the backup job? We shall see if he can outperform Martin at training camp and the preseason. Another year in Abbotsford would be beneficial for him but Vancouver won’t have much of a choice to call him up if Martin struggles.
The play of the backup, whether that is Martin or Silovs is just as important to the Canucks season as Demko staying healthy.
#2: The defence: Will it be better this time around?
The Canucks defence has been poor for years. While it is still not great, the Canucks did improve their defence with Filip Hronek, Soucy and Cole now in the picture. It ain’t much but it was honest work from Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin.
A full season and a healthy Hronek helps the right side as he is very good at moving the puck up the ice. With a back-to-back season with 38 points in Detroit (he had one point in four games after he got traded to Vancouver) Hronek can also provide offence on the right side taking off the offensive pressure a bit from Hughes.
Soucy and Cole both can play the right side despite being left-handed. Both of them are known to be defence-first types of players. With structure being heavily preached by Tocchet, they fit into his system well.
Tyler Myers is still a Canuck and his five million dollar bonus is set to be given on September 15. He’s getting that bread. That would make it easier for the Canucks to trade him. But in a bottom pairing role, having Myers around isn’t too back. Sure, he is chaotic defensively but he is very good at moving the puck up the ice.
The new defencemen must come as advertised or else it will be another tough year defensively for the Canucks.
#3: The start to the season: can the Canucks not crash and burn early?
The start to the season in the NHL and pretty much any other sports league is important. American Thanksgiving is seen as a measuring point to whether a team will make the playoffs or not. Teams below the playoff line at American Thanksgiving usually don’t make the playoffs. One exception is the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues, who went on to win the Stanley Cup that season.
Last season, Canucks were 28th in the NHL at American Thanksgiving with a 7-10-3 record. The season before that, they were 6-11-2 and 26th in the NHL when Americans were stuffing their turkeys.
The last two seasons saw Vancouver climb back into the playoffs in the second half of the season due to new coaching bumps. But the efforts were too little and too late.
Tocchet wanted his players to arrive in August but he explained to Sporsnet’s Iain MacIntyre last week that he isn’t too disappointed that didn’t happen because the Canucks don’t have a dedicated practice facility.
Practice facility or not, Tocchet knows the importance of a good start to the season.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about we have to have a good start,” said Tocchet to MacIntyre. “Well, that’s pressure. If we’re prepared for it, we’ll deal with it, don’t run away from pressure. Meet pressure with pressure. Let’s, as a group, attack it instead of (being) scared of it.”
If the Canucks start like a race car with a bad engine again, they can kiss meaningful games in the spring goodbye.
No pressure fellas.