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 vs. 

RECORDS: Canucks 24-24-6   Hawks 21-24-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THE BENNING WARRIORS: Canucks Army

First off, I realize it probably doesn’t square up to keep using the train-wreck picture when they’ve won five in a row, but I also don’t want to mess with what’s working. So there.

So this is stupid, and with pretty much everyone playing tonight it could shake out any number of ways, but the Canucks currently hold the last playoff spot. And with a regulation win over them, the Hawks will honest-to-god be one point behind them. In fact, should the Blues not win tonight–and they’re in Tampa so you wouldn’t count on it–a regulation win would see the Hawks no more than a point out no matter how the other results go. Sure, they might still have to climb over five goddamn teams, but it’s all a fucking mess so let’s do our best to enjoy it.

And getting one over on this Canucks team at home shouldn’t be that big of an ask, but the Hawks have whiffed on easier exams. Vancouver is at the end of a four-game Eastern swing, so they could have the bus running. Since the turn of the year they’re a middling, at best, 5-5-2. They’re coming off two-straight losses, where they scored three goals total. They have five division games after this, which they’ll consider more important. This is the donut-hole, as it were.

What the Canucks are doing here at all is another question. This is not a team that should even think about a playoff spot, and should really be more concerned with another top-five pick to line up next to Quinn Hughes next year. Sure, it has Elias Pettersson (I SAID WWE STANDS FOR…), who is the runaway Rookie Of The Year and the main reason anyone is paying any attention to the tears-blue and puke-green these days. He’s made Bo Horvat somewhat useful, which is a real trick, and Brock Boeser is still scoring at a decent rate when he’s upright. Jacob Markstrom has been good enough in net to not get them killed.

But much like the Hawks, this isn’t a good team and there’s no number to suggest they are. They’re fifth-worst in possession, third-worst in expected-goals percentage. They’ve shot an ok percentage, but even their special teams are nothing to notice. In fact, since a barely-hot start that had them at 10-6-2, they’re 14-18-4. Much like the Hawks, they’ve profited from a middle and bottom of the conference that can’t separate or distinguish itself in anyway, and hence everyone gets to be a hanger-on like a late night at a casino (believe me, I know).

The Canucks offer a decent top-six through Pettersson (with a record), Horvat, Boeser. Nikolay Goldobin and Jake Virtanen have not lived up to any expectation, and in Virtanen’s case it feels like the 17th straight year we’ve said that. The top pairing of Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher has been under-the-radar good, but the rest blows and you know that because it has Erik Gudbranson on it. Alex Edler is out because he tried to bob for apples on an ice surface, and he’s past his sell-by date anyway. So might be Chris Tanev, who the Canucks have refused to trade for what seems like a decade and now no one would want him. This is Canucks management at its best.

Surrounding the admittedly promising talent are some of the most hilarious contracts in the league. Go to their CapFriendly.com page and just marvel at Eriksson, Gagner, Beagle, Sutter, and a few others. It’s like something out of the modernist wing of your local museum. It has shapes and colors but no discernible statement or plan other than “I put this shit on a wall.

For the Hawks, they’ll be without David Kampf for the next month, and that’s a bigger deal than it might first appear. Kampf had become Kruger II, and you could start him against top lines in his own zone and he’d find a way to come out on top. He and Brandon Saad had combined to form a pretty hellacious combo on the third line, and the Hawks will miss that. Maybe the original Marcus Kruger can roll back the clock for a couple weeks, but you wouldn’t be the house on it. He’ll slide to center and Brendan Perlini will come in at wing there.

The only other changes are Gustav Forsling in for Carl Dahlstrom, which makes all the pairings muck, and Collin Delia will start.

This is a matchup game for CCYP. The Canucks bottom-six is a toxic waste dump covered in dogshit and seasoned with squirrel carcass. He should try and get his top lines out against them as often as possible and watch the havoc ensue. See if Kruger can deal with Pettersson like old times, and if not you can always change the plan. For once the Hawks won’t have the worse bottom lines, and should try and maximize that.

It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s probably worse for the organization that it is this way now, but let’s see how far this dumb, silly, but fun ride goes. Six is better than five.

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@Petbugs13 is one of the stranger Canucks characters floating out there in the internet. Which is saying something. Check out his work as Graphic Comments on Canucks Army

The Nucks appear to be in a similar spot to the Hawks, in that making the playoffs wouldn’t really be as beneficial as getting another top five or three pick, right?
Oh my God yes. There are some in Vancouver that think the rebuild is over and that this team will soon return to the good old days when they would be battling toe-to-toe with the Hawks in search of the ultimate prize. Now, to be fair, they aren’t wrong. Except this time around, the ultimate prize is named Jack Hughes, not Lord Stanley.
But seriously, there really are people that think this. And unfortunately, those people happen to own/run the team. Now, I’m sure that for business reasons, they would love the revenue from a few playoff games and hope that getting back in would boost season ticket sales for next year. But from a hockey perspective, you’re absolutely right. This team needs at least one more top 10 pick, and for another one or mid round picks to turn into solid NHLers if they hope to compete.
Beyond that, the real danger of getting back in to the playoffs prematurely is that they’ll then continue down the Edmonton Oilers’ path. Making the playoffs two years ago was the worst thing that could have happened to Edmonton. It’s not just missing out on another pick, it’s how the team then reacts to thinking everything is fixed.
Pettersson, Horvat, Boeser are at the top of the marquee, but is there anyone beyond that who has looked promising for the future?
Not at the NHL level. Those are the three guys they are building around at this point. Virtanen and Goldobin are both struggling to live up to their promise, each in their own way. The rest of the roster is filled with guys you could pick up for $250 on the waiver wire at least once or twice during a season, or role players you go after for depth when you want to fill in gaps for a Cup run. And don’t get me started on the blue line…
If there’s any real help for the future, it’s going to come from the prospect pool. Adam Gaudette and Jonathan Dahlen look promising, and last year’s 7th overall pick, Quinn Hughes, could finally bring a true offensive threat to the Canucks’ defense corps. He is expected to join the Canucks once his season at University of Michigan finishes up.
When is it Thatcher Demko time?
Realistically, I think we can expect to see Demko as a full time NHL goalie next season, but I suspect it will still be in a backup role but with the opportunity to play himself into a bigger share of the net. It will be Markstrom’s last year under contract, so the timing is right for Thatcher to get acclimatized to playing in the league.
That means learning to watch out for a number 97 flying at him out of nowhere when he’s playing in Edmonton. You know, just in case it lands on his head and then he can’t see the puck. And, since he plays for the Canucks, he’s also going to need to eat, sleep, shower while wearing headphones playing Chelsea Dagger on a loop. There’s no way that song is going to rattle another Canucks’ goalie, dammit.
The Canucks have a ton of cap space for next year, and a bunch of RFA’s that wouldn’t appear to be urgent to re-sign. So I guess our question is how are they going to fuck this up?
I think you just answered your own question. Jim Benning has not met a ton of cap space he couldn’t turn into a lump of lead or two. Actually, scratch that. He would overpay and definitely only be able to afford one lump of lead.
I mean, here’s a guy that dodged a bullet when his old boss, Peter Chiarelli, outbid the Canucks for Milan Lucic three years ago, but he still managed to throw the inadvertent win away by signing Loui Eriksson to an untradeable six year, $36 million deal! He signed Brandon Sutter to a five year extension and gave him a retroactive no-trade clause for the one year he had left on his existing deal!! He is paying Sam Gagner $3 million to play for Toronto’s farm team!!!
Have no fear. Jim Benning has no shortage of ways to burn Francesco Aquilini’s money.

 

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Stefan Heck is @HockeyDipshit. We don’t need to tell you much else. 

The Canucks have Brock Boeser and Elias Pattersson and Adam Gaudette, so they do know how to find young players. And yet Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, and a host of other bewildering contracts and decisions are here as well. Do they have a direction or is this a mass shit-flinging at a wall?
I’ll admit it – this regime is much better at drafting than the Gillis regime. Unfortunately, they’re still much worse at trading, free agency, and a host of other things. I think the players Jim Benning has drafted will eventually form the core of a solid team, but I don’t think he’ll be GM whenever that eventually happens. Also, I was right about Elias Pettersson. Just wanted to mention that.
Let’s stick with Gaudette. His running buddy at Northeastern, Dylan Sikura, was sent down by the Hawks and we’ve always had a raised eyebrow when it comes to him. We chalked his production up to getting to play with Gaudette at the college level. What are the first impressions over there?
Gaudette is way faster than I imagined he’d be. He works his ass off, and if he had a bit more puck luck, he’d definitely have his first goal by now. The points will start to come in the second half of the season, I’d imagine. He’ll either stay on the team because of his play or because “Canucks” and “injuries” are like peanut butter and chocolate. Hey, I’ll give Gaudette this: he’s about six billion times more watchable than Jayson Megna.
Is this finally the Bo Horvat awakening?
Horvat continues to surprise even the most loyal of Canucks fans. I honestly thought he might peak at, like, a Daymond-Langkow-in-Calgary 77 point season, but now I don’t know. I think a large part of his goal explosion this year is that his toe-drag bull-rush to the net move seems to be working way more often. He’s definitely been a lot of fun so far, and seems to be that classic player that gets better the more you underestimate him.
Is Thatcher Demko taking over in net when he’s healthy?
Demko’s concussion issues are worrisome, and Markstrom/Nilsson have been solid so far – although given everything we know about those two, that could change in a minute. I am genuinely concerned that his concussion will keep him out for a really long time, but I’d say even when he’s 100% healthy this year, he’ll only see playing time on the Canucks if one of the two Swedes gets hurt or traded.

 

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There’s little question that the Vancouver Canucks have been floating in a fowl, still body of water for a few years now. They may be heavily deluded by the playoff appearance of 2015 that they somehow spasmed out of nowhere, but the two seasons after that hasn’t seen them clear 75 points and they’re certainly going to get nowhere near that this season. Anyone with half-decent eyesight and at least five functioning neurons upstairs could see this team needs big changes. It has one player it can build around in Brock Boeser, and maybe a decent piece in Bo Horvat, Troy Stetcher, and Ben Hutton. Maybe. Clearly, there’s a long way to go.

The Canucks had some things that they might have been able to move along for at least additional draft picks, and the more spins at the draft wheel you get the better chance you have of landing something meaningful.

Erik Gudbranson, who uncategorically sucks and that’s not even a phrase, was heading into free agency this summer. Thomas Vanek was another. Alex Edler might be starting to have old man stink, but he’s only got one year after this left on his deal and if the Canucks ate just a touch of his money due, they might have been able to convince some idiot that he can be a puck-moving bum-slayer. Chris Tanev has two more years after this one, and would have been harder to move, but given that he’s 28 and can actually still play, that might have been worth kicking the tires on too. And kicking this season into the can as hard as possible raises the odds of Rasmus Dahlin landing in town, which is a real start. Hell, maybe even flogging Lisa Ann’s favorite defenseman Michael Del Zotto would have been worth inspection.

The Canucks did… none of this.

They only made two trades. One was of Philip Holm, a young d-man who couldn’t crack their lineup, to Vegas for reclamation project Brendan Leipsic. Like, ok, maybe the Canucks can get Leipsic to the heights of a third line player. So…fine. And they did move Thomas Vanek…

…for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte.

HUH?!

The Canucks tried to claim that there was no picks available for Vanek. But he got a third round pick at the deadline just last year. Surely a lower pick could have been had. And what the fuck are the Canucks going to do with Jokinen and Motte other than have other jerseys to make? Jokinen will play for all 31 NHL teams by 2020 at this ace, and Fifth Feather called Tyler Motte an ECHL all-star upon one viewing of him in preseason. Are they really selling that a player on his third organization by 24 is going to be a piece?

Not only that, they re-signed Gudbranson for another four years. He’s a big, dumb d-man in a league that’s getting smaller and faster. This deal is going to look awful…well, now. They didn’t move Edler, who is only going to lose value now, and they didn’t move Tanev. Tanev still has use but will he at 31 or 32 when the Canucks are good again? Assuming they do everything right, which they won’t.

The Canucks will spend $23.2 million next year on Gudbranson, Brandon Sutter, Sam Gagner, Loui Eriksson, and Bo Horvat. Only Horvat isn’t a synonym for “millstone” at the moment, and only just barely away from that. And remember, they might not get to 65 points this year.

Sure, Adam Gaudette and Kole Lind are in the pipeline already. But look at how much more the Nucks need? This was a whiff.

 

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We sent out the clarion call for Canucks experts. We found @PetBugs13. He also goes by Graphic Comments on CanucksArmy.com.

Ok, this should be fun. Why won’t the Canucks trade Gudbranson and/or Vanek at the deadline even though they’re not going anywhere?
Um, do you guys remember when Dale Tallon couldn’t figure out how to work a fax machine? Well, Jim Benning is like that, but with an NHL roster.
That’s the short answer. The long answer is they think they need Gudbranson to provide the grit they lost in Derek Dorsett, as if fourth line tough guys aren’t a dime a dozen in the NHL. And although the plan all along was to trade Vanek at the deadline, now they think they need to keep him around for next year if the Sedins decide to retire.
Wow, that’s even more depressing when I see it written out like that.
Is Troy Stecher anything worth getting excited about? The Canucks don’t have a Boeser on the blue line so they have to start somewhere, right?
I don’t know about getting excited, but the kid has potential. What he lacks in size he makes up for in hockey smarts. He’s probably been the Canucks’ best defenseman the last two years. Sure, that isn’t exactly saying much on a blueline that has featured Luca Sbisa, Erik Gudbranson, and Michael Del Zotto, but he’s probably been better than Chris Tanev overall. Mind you, Tanev has had to carry a lot of that aforementioned dead weight most of that time, so he’s had some bad stretches. But yeah, Stecher has been a pretty solid defenseman, for a 23-year-old that probably doesn’t crack six feet even with his skates on. He doesn’t so much battle for the puck in the corners as use positioning and his stick to come away with it, and he has the skating ability to carry the puck out of the zone probably better than anyone else on this defense. So no, he’s not exciting, but he’s dependable. And on this team, I’ll take it.
Jake Virtanen is only 21 somehow. Are they ever going to be able to turn him into anything to join Horvat and Boeser in the next wave or is he this and that’s it?
Let’s put it this way, the hope is that he’s another Bertuzzi. The fear is that he’s another Neely. The reality is probably that he’s another Kyle Beach.
But seriously, what Virtanen has in size and speed, he lacks in hockey smarts. He had a great Junior career because he used that size and speed advantage to manhandle the kids he was playing against. But those advantages disappear when you get to the NHL, and I’m not sure he has the hockey sense and skills to fall back on. Even his hitting, which was a huge part of his game in Junior, has disappeared. Not sure if that’s because he hurt his shoulder and has never recovered, or if he’s just gun shy after getting hit with a two game suspension in his rookie season. This is a guy that could really have used a couple years in the AHL to round out the rest of his game and learn what it takes to be a professional hockey player. But the owners and management desperately wanted him in the NHL, so here we are.
What will the Sedins do this summer? They’re old and won’t play anywhere else and obviously the Canucks are years from a Cup. But it’s not like they’re useless either. 
It has pretty much been an open secret that they want to play at least another year, and if you look at their performance this season, they still can still control play when they’re on the ice and they’ve found new life on the powerplay now that they have a trigger man in Brock Boeser. The big question is how much they’ll want to be paid if they come back. They’re definitely not $7 million players any more, but they’re not $3 million players either. So will the Canucks be willing to give them $5 million each to come back?
(In an alternate universe, they agree to a trade to a contender at the deadline for a chance at the Cup and then re-sign here as free agents in July.)
There seems to be a fear among Vancouver ownership that Canucks fans won’t stand for a full rebuild. But surely they’d have more patience for that than watching a barely middling team run in place, no?
Absolutely. What this fanbase rally wants is some hope for the future. Well, the smart half of the fanbase, anyway. The dumb half always has hope and thinks are going just fine, thank you very much. So yeah, a full rebuild is exactly what this market needs. As long as the trajectory is on a downward descent, the fans are going to be restless. If you can bottom out quickly and show that there’s hope for the future and the team is starting to get better, the fans will get behind it. The team has almost turned the corner, but it’s taken four years. More if you count the last couple of years under Mike Gillis, when he was prevented from tearing it down by the owners. But even that little hint of hope that has started to creep into the fans since last year’s trade deadline can be just as quickly snuffed out if they don’t stick with it and turn guys like Vanek and Gudbranson into useful assets at this year’s deadline.

 

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