After a thoroughly embarrassing performance in Edmonton last night, the Hawks have no time to regroup as they continue their Western Canadian tour in Vancouver tonight against the Canucks, and just in time for Sedin Twin Night as 22 and 33 go into the rafters at Rogers Arena.
The Hawks start 2020 in Vancouver, which in some way was where everything started. Not only was it their biggest rival and site of some of their biggest wins, but it’s where Seabrook, Keith, and Toews won a Gold Medal before they’d won a Cup, which you could argue only set off their appetite for more silverware. Now they’re just barely alive in the playoff race. Tonight they’ll see another one chasing the postseason after an absence, which hasn’t been something that’s gone well for them in the past.
The Vancouver Canucks have won five in a row, which actually has them in the third spot in the Pacific but only one point above the trap door in the West with the Flames, Jets, and Oilers right on their ass. You’d think the Flames will get their act together soon, which probably means the Canucks are still looking at a wildcard spot. The Hawks claim they’re looking at those two. Which would make this something of a four-pointer. But the Hawks have biffed pretty much every one of these when they’ve had the chance. You remember games against the Avs, Stars, or Coyotes last year where they couldn’t even manage a point that they needed. If they’re serious, a regulation win is needed and then to be backed up with a bunch more.
So how did the Canucks get here? Mostly goaltending. Jacob Markstom has been great in December, with a .927 SV%. The Canucks mostly have been getting domed in games of late, but Markstrom has seen them through. They don’t do anything particularly well other than the power play, which is just an extension of their magnificent top line. The trio of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson (WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?!), and Brock Boeser has some of the best metrics in the league, and has been murder in both zones. Earlier in the year they were some of the best defensive marks in the league, though that’s slipped of late.
But beyond that, the Canucks have the common problems of not enough depth. Jake Virtanen has done what he does which is score goals you’ll never remember, and Bo Horvat is much more comfortable as a second center behind Pettersson. But beyond that there isn’t much, and that’s something the Canucks will have to improve in the near future.
There is a genuine star on the blue line in Quinn Hughes, who has 25 assists. Tyler Myers sucks, has always sucked, and will always suck, but the Canucks were hard-ons to sign him as a free agent for years so he’ll be polluting their third-pairing for the next five years. Christoper Tanev and Alex Edler are still here, though one might think moving both at the deadline will improve the Canucks long-term. But the long-term has never been their priority, and if they’re in the thick of it–given the nature of the Pacific they probably will be–they’ll never justify stripping their blue line of the two dependable veterans they have.
For the Hawks, nothing much should change. One would think Robin Lehner will continue to ride the roll he’s been on, though they won’t want Corey Crawford to go stale. Sikura has earned another game, there’s not much more he can do honestly. Maybe Koekkoek comes in for again but you’d tend to doubt it.
As stated above, the Hawks have utterly sucked in games against direct competitors at the bottom of the picture. They won’t get anywhere if they can’t change that. As we’ve said, the schedule is a little light right now. They’ve won three in a row, but they’ll need more. They need weeks of this, not days. So keep it going.
We comment on it every time the Hawks and Canucks get together of late. It’s just still so jarring how little you think of the Canucks now, given what they used to mean around here. Then again, Canucks fans probably don’t think about the Hawks much either anymore, aside from Duncan Keith. Even if the Hawks outlasted the Canucks relevance in ’14 and ’15, they’ve both faded from the scene in the past three or four years.
For the same reasons? Maybe. While it’s always fun to laugh at Jim Benning, and you should, the real obstacle in Vancouver is the Aquilino family that owns the team. They have never sanctioned a full rebuild, and strive to make the playoffs every season. There’s a feeling amongst the ownership that the fanbase would never accept a total teardown, even though most of the fanbase was screaming for one for a while now.
And perhaps that window has passed. Benning has done an excellent job of providing Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes as the building blocks of the future. There was even a nifty trade for J.T. Miller. With just the first three, you’d say that’s a great base to build a contender down the road with.
But because of the playoffs-or-fuck-you mantra from above, the Canucks are saddled with comedically bad contracts. Now, it’s Benning after all who chose those players and deals, and he gets most of the blame as he should. But he still has bosses to answer to, and they’ve sent out this directive.
Which is why the Canucks have only $30K in cap space this year. It’s why they’re dragging around Loui Eriksson, who was finished four years ago, or Antoine Roussel, or Tyler Myers. Even Jay Beagle is overpaid, as is Brandon Sutter. We could dig into the past and find more bad deals, but we’re not trying to be cruel here.
Which leaves the Canucks on a funky path. There’s some cap space next year, with only Jake Vrtanen an important piece to re-sign though how important is hard to gauge. Maybe Chris Tanev, but that’s not vital either. But they need a second line. They’ll need a long-term partner for Hughes, and it’s not going to be Tyler Myers no matter how many drugs they take to delude themselves. They probably need a second pairing. They’ll also need to either re-sign Jacob Markstrom or find a new goalie, which is going to cost a hell of a lot more than $3.6M they’re paying Markstrom now.
With Boeser, Pettersson, and Hughes, the Canucks are past doing a total rebuild. If they’re not stupid, they can buy out Eriksson or just pray that he retires early (he won’t). Another complication is that they’ve got $3M in cap-recapture penalties from Roberto Luongo retiring for another two seasons. Edler has one more year left. Sutter has one more. Beagle two. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel, but they can’t afford any more impulsive mistakes, otherwise they’ll be what they’ve been for the past five seasons, just sitting outside the playoffs with no clear direction.
But will the Aquilini’s finally show some patience? The Canucks haven’t seen the playoffs since ’15, even though that’s always been the stated goal. They have an outside shot this year, though you wouldn’t bet on it. Will they see that six or seven years without the playoffs is no different than five? Or will they go all in for more free agents next year? It feels like if they do, they won’t go anywhere again.
We’ve had to do this the past couple years now. Whenever the Hawks meet up with the Kings or Canucks, we have to do something of a “Remember when these mattered?” comment. This used to be the the fiercest rivalry in the league. That stopped some seven years ago. With the Kings and Hawks, there just isn’t much more to discuss because both teams are lying face down in the muck. Sadly, that might not be the case for the Canucks anymore.
The Canucks find themselves one point out of the lead for the Pacific Division, behind the Oilers and one ahead of the Coyotes, just to let you know how backwards everything is and how many different teams seem to have better ideas than the Hawks right now.
Is it real? The numbers suggest it might be. The schedule does not. The Canucks have seven regulation wins, and they’re over the Sharks at home (some teams can do that, in fact a lot of them have), the Kings twice (some teams do that), the Red Wings twice, the Rangers, and over the Panthers at home. Only the last one is a team that’s probably good and playing well at the moment. But hey, you can only play whom the schedule says you do, and the Canucks have made hay against that.
And they haven’t just squeaked by, as their metrics are pretty glowing. They’re one of the best teams in the league in terms of Corsi and expected-goals, and they’re doing some explosive work in the offensive end. Most of that comes from the top line of WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?-JT Miller-Brock Boeser. They’ve combined for 52 points in 15 games, with Elias Pettersson on track for a 109-point season. That’ll play.
Coach Travis Green has taken the training wheels off this line, starting them in any zone against any opponent, and pretty much doing the same with his second line centered by Bo Horvat. This has freed him up to put his plugs in more advantageous spots, which is maybe why you’ve seen scoring spikes from the likes of Brandon Sutter and Tim Schaller. What a time to be alive…to cut yourself.
That doesn’t mean Lady Luck isn’t waving her ass a bit at the Canucks, too. Again, the soft schedule helps, and they’ve ground up the chuck they’ve been served (is that how that works? Let’s just go with it). But this is a team with a 102 PDO that’s getting a .918 from Jacob Markstrom and a .938 from Thatcher Demko. The latter has been the hope for the future for what feels like 17 years now, but he’s not a .938 goalie. The Nucks are also shooting at a team-rate of 9.4% at evens, and while Pettersson and Boeser are most certainly top-level scorers, the rest of this outfit most certainly is not.
That said, they’re a top-10 specials teams outfit on both sides, with an excellent penalty kill, and with the possession they’ve gotten at evens and what they’ve done with it, you can’t really ask for any more.
And they have hope on the blue line. Somehow, and this for sure won’t last, Tyler Myers has been a possession-driving monster, with a Corsi of 56.5% while just shading most of his zone starts in the defensive zone. Should you expect that to continue? Cue Russell Westbrook:
Still, nice to have for now. That has freed up Quinn Hughes, who is going to be a thing, to take easier assignments, and he’s dinging opponents upside the head to the tune of a 57 xG% while getting third-pairing minutes and 67% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Must be nice to be able to bed in a young, dynamic d-man like that so easily. We’re looking longingly at Vancouver, folks. Eat Arby’s, puke it up, and then eat that.
Right, the to Hawks. Corey Crawford will rotate back in to the starter’s net after Lehner once again did enough to keep the Hawks from getting utterly embarrassed. This is starting to be like the end of “Little Miss Sunshine,” where Paul Dano is trying to convince Toni Collette that she has to keep Abigail Breslin from getting embarrassed by the actual pageant girls. I think Lehner is Collette in this metaphor, but I’m not entirely sure as the Hawks have basically broken my brain.
Coach Kelvin Gemstone, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to scratch one of the Hawks’ best two-way and fastest forwards tonight in Dominik Kubalik to give us more Zack Smith. Because all the kids out here with their skateboards and backwards hats have been demanding more Zack Smith. The world needs more Zack Smith. Zack Smith is the key to salvation…
…I’ve just had a brain bubble.
Everything is fucked.
Anyway, the Canucks can do pretty much whatever they want here. They can try and out-skate the Hawks, which they can. They probably have the defensive structure to use the “advanced trap,” that the Sharks used to strangle the Hawks into paste, which is just a trap but ahead of the red line. Or anything in between. And the Hawks will probably still try and dump the puck in and get it back with their not-fast-enough and not-strong-enough forwards.
I’m going to go look for a strong tree branch. You folks enjoy the game.
Imagine a world where a team could bring up a very promising rookie, one that was worth a top-ten pick, and play him on the third pairing, shelter him as far as zone-starts and the competition he sees, and let him hang loose on the power play where his generational skill can really shine. Imagine getting 11 points out of him in his first fourteen games, as his mistakes don’t kill you because they come against third and fourth lines.
That world exists, people. It’s just in Vancouver and not in Chicago.
Whereas Adam Boqvist essentially was tossed into the deep end full of ornery badgers (and they tend to get that way when you toss them into a pool where they don’t belong) due to his organization’s incompetence, the Canucks have allowed Quinn Hughes to land softly in the NHL and already showcase what the Canucks think will be a franchise-turning skill-set on the blue line. Oh for a different way.
Hughes has started his NHL career skating with steady-as-a-rock vet Chris Tanev in a third-pairing role. Tanev is still capable of much more, but is also the perfect centerfielder for the freelancing Hughes. As the Canucks didn’t have too many aspirations when the season started (that could be changing), they can keep Tanev in a more reserved role to develop a future star. It also helps having Edler, Myers, Benn, and Stetcher who are, at worst, representative NHL d-men. Tanev and Hughes have started 63% of their shifts in the offensive zone, keeping Hughes where he is best and letting him learn the defensive side of the game at a slower pace.
And it’s actually Tanev who has been lost without Hughes, as he has sported a sub-40% Corsi in the 40 or so minutes on the season he’s played with someone else. So clearly, Hughes is special.
And he’s shown that on the power play, where he already has eight points and one of his two goals. The top unit is being QB’d by Hughes with Pettersson, Boeser, Miller, and Horvat as the four forwards, which can be a scary one for a long time. You can see where this thing would become self-aware like the Sharks one did a couple years ago, with talented players playing together on it for season upon season until they just knew where each other was.
If you want hope for Boqvist through Hughes, keep in mind they’re just about the same size. Hughes is listed at 5-10 and 170, which is generous to the hilt. And as the years roll on, the Canucks will expect him to displace Alex Edler on the top pairing. But they don’t need him to now, as things are going well and expectations within the organization–except for ownership which is kind of a problem–are tempered.
The future looks bright in Vancouver, if they can keep owner Aquilini out of hockey side of the business too much. Something they’ve failed to do for a while now. Acquilini has never given in on doing a full rebuild, trying to do half of one while also trying to compete for playoff spots, which has handcuffed the Canucks for half a decade now. It’s why they have some unconscionable contracts on their books to the likes of Eriksson, Sutter, Roussel, and now Myers while actually producing a promising young core of Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes. It feels like it could keep them from going in any direction.
Still, within the next two seasons they could probably free themselves up from Tanev, Edler, Eriksson, Pearson, and Sutter’s revival might make him marketable as well. Then the Canucks would really have room to boost their future. A future in which Hughes looks like he’ll be driving.
If the Canucks had a true plan, you’d look at Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Quintin Hughes, and Bo Horvat and think, “Hey, that’s probably the start of something, with a long way to go.” But these are the Canucks, who have surrounded those young stars (stretching in Horvat’s case) with a litany of incomprehensible contracts and decisions, all in the name of not rebuilding. Which means the rebuilding that they’ll be doing anyway is going to take longer. It feels like an entire organization spinning one wheel and wondering why it’s not going anywhere. Let’s get to the heart of it.
35-36-11 81 points (5th in Pacific)
2.67 GF/G (26th) 3.02 GA/G (18th) -29 GD
48.0 CF% (24th) 45.9 xGF% (28th)
17.1 PP% (22nd) 81.1 PK% (11th)
Goalies: We’ve heard about Thatcher Demko for roughly 17 years now, and it might finally be the time for him to take the Vancouver net so he can be treated to having garbage thrown at him and his every move, thought, and essence debated nonstop in the Vancouver media which has all the subtlety of a hungry and deranged jackal (and about the same IQ). At least he can hold that off until the Canucks play games that matter again, which could be a while. Demko looked all right in a brief cameo of nine games last year, but missed most of the campaign in the AHL with injury, which is kind of his thing.
He’ll have to work hard to unseat Jacob Markstrom, who had a huge second half to the season last year. Well, he had a big February, and ended up with a .912 SV% overall, which was a tick above league average. Markstrom is 29 and headed into unrestricted free agency, so you can expect that or better. But you can also expect that the Canucks desperately want Demko to prove he can take the job on from here out so they don’t have to cut another moronic check to Markstrom, which they probably will anyway given their nature.
Defense: It starts with Quinn Hughes, who will get his first full season in the NHL. He got a brief sniff last year after Michigan had one of their worst seasons in recent memory, which begs the question how could they be that bad if Hughes was so good? Let’s save that one for another time. Hughes promises to be the quick, suave puck-handling d-man the Canucks have never really had, aside from when Alex Edler’s elbows were down, he was healthy, and younger. So never. Edler and his elbows are still here, by god.
But as it is with the Canucks, wherever there is a promising youth there is also a wildly overcompensated, wildly overrated veteran taking too much of the oxygen. BY GAWD, THAT’S TYLER MYERS’S MUSIC! Myers to Van City seemed a fait accompli for years, and it did indeed happen. Apparently the Canucks simply never noticed that Myers sucks to high heaven, as he’s not that offensively skilled and doesn’t play anywhere near to his size and his own zone is the Bermuda Triangle to him. All they noticed was that he was from there.
If you moved Myers out of the way, you certainly could get solid enough play from Troy Stetcher and Chris Tanev (before yet something else falls off of him) to shield Hughes. Jordie Benn was brought in to do more of that, but mostly to glare at people while they’re getting behind him to score. Tanev should be a deadline piece to be sold off, but we keep saying that and it never seems to happen. Anyway, the blue and green clad throng will certainly be in love with Myers as he charges out of position for the 164th time in December to let in yet another forward down on an odd-man. God it’s so beautiful.
Outside shot of Olli Joulevi to somehow scratch out a role. He could have if Myers and Benn weren’t here, but again, these are the Canucks. Logic and reason were beheaded in the town square long ago.
Forwards: You certainly have a great top line for a while with Boeser and Pettersson to anchor it. JT Miller is the kind of player you get when you’re a piece or two away from really competing, not barely scratching to get in a playoff discussion Fine work here. Horvat is a good second center to have when you already have Pettersson. That’s all fine.
But it’s balanced out by still having Loui Eriksson and his confused gape wandering around the ice in some indiscernible pattern. Or Antoinne Roussel doing just about the same, just yappy-ier and stinky-er (because he’s French, y’see). Or at least until the Hawks trade for him because they like that element, and don’t deny that it’s going to happen. Brandon Sutter makes $4M a year. I can’t stress this enough. Michael Ferland will find a home on either of the top two lines and get a fair share of goals, and you won’t remember any of them. After that it’s a big bag of suck and anonymous punters with stupid numbers. It’s actually a good thing that Podzolkin can’t come over for another two years, because the sight of him having to share the ice or lose time to the likes of Jay Beagle would probably send the seven remaining Nucks fans who still care throwing themselves of the Rogers Arena upper deck.
Prediction: Since the Hawks-Canucks rivalry died, it’s been hard to think of the Canucks at all. And it’ll stay that way. Their games are late, they don’t matter, and no one there seems to think they’ll do anything worth mentioning. There’s certainly some young talent to keep an eye on, but you know it’s pretty plain when even those fans don’t have the energy to bitch about conspiracies against them. The Canucks won’t matter until they clear out the dead wood around their promising kids, and even then there’s no guarantee they won’t just shuffle in even deader wood with bigger contracts because they can’t help themselves. Stuck in second gear, miles behind the Flames, Sharks, Knights, and probably tussling with the Yotes to see who can finish outside the playoffs by the least.
Every so often when the Hawks and Canucks meet, we’re lucky enough to get to talk to The Hockey Dipshit (@HockeyDipshit). Today is one of those days.
The Canucks playoff chase seems to have died out, such as it was. Sitting in fifth for the lottery. This was always the better outcome, no?
Oh, absolutely. Next year is when they should start maaaybe thinking playoffs. This year was a combination of Pettersson being unreal and the West being a big pile of burning, stinky trash. People are going to paint this season as a big step forward for the team, and in certain ways, it was. But they’re still spinning their wheels with what seems like dozens of faceless replacement-level players. I’m just glad I don’t have to see Markus Granlund get completely caved in by the Flames or the Sharks. And hey, [In extremely exhausted tone of voice], maybe they’ll get lucky in the lottery this year.
Are the last couple weeks dependent on Quinn Hughes and Will Lockwood signing up and coming over?
Hughes is up and if I had to guess, he’ll make his debut later this week against Calgary. He’s been battling a foot injury, and as much as I’d love to see him play, I also don’t want to see him hurt himself in a completely meaningless game. I can’t see Lockwood signing before the season is up, and even if he did, I doubt he’d get any playing time. Which is too bad, because it would have been nice to see what he could do with, let’s see here… Tim Schaller? Ah… never mind.
Elias Pettersson, the one bright spot, has stalled out a bit over the past few weeks. Is that anything more than playing so many games and being the main and perhaps only weapon?
I think it’s a combination of it being a long season and other teams keying in on him more. He’ll still do at least two totally bonkers things a game regardless of whether or not he actually hits the scoresheet, though. He recently said he had to try to be more selfish on the ice, and then proceeded to rip home maybe his most ridiculous shot of the year against the Devils… so hopefully his selfish streak continues!
We asked this of Petbugs last time, but with Pettersson and Hughes and maybe Demko and one or two others and a ton of cap space, how are they going to fuck this up?
I am 100% sure the Canucks are going to sign Tyler Myers to a massive, franchise-crippling deal. Possibly Wayne Simmonds as well. And they’ll be picking 7th overall. Looking forward to it!
@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.