By: Brayden Fengler / April 8, 2021
It was just last Wednesday everyone in Canucks nation was anxiously awaiting Vancouver’s return to play after their one-week break. Whether you’re a die-hard fan, a media personality, or anything in between, everyone within that spectrum should agree that the week is always better when there are Canucks games on the calendar.
Unfortunately, It’s now been over two full weeks since the ‘Nucks have dressed for a game and just over one week since we learned of the team’s first COVID-19 case in Adam Gaudette. eight days later, and the team has been swept with a full-on outbreak like none other in professional sports during this pandemic.
We here at StatdiumChinatown.ca are gutted by this horribly unfortunate situation that the organization has been faced with. Right now this is a bigger deal than just some delayed hockey games, all focus should be on the player’s long-term health concerns.
The difficult news surrounding the Canucks comes at a team when COVID numbers on the whole are on the rise inside the province. Throughout the later months of the pandemic, the Canucks have remained one of the very few reliable escapisms for BC residents to turn to, and help take their minds off of COVID. With that spirit of a positive escape in mind, this article will focus on some highlights and upsides that have come from this tumultuous Canucks season so far.
The Emergence of Nils Höglander.
The Canucks as a team have seen little stability throughout the course of this season so far. However consistently in the limelight for the team has been their 20-year-old rookie Nils Höglander. The Hög immediately grabbed everyone’s attention this year, the moment he stepped on the ice for training camp and he hasn’t seemed to let go of that.
Höglander was the 40th overall pick in the 2019 NHL entry draft. Players of that draft position aren’t expected to be dynamite upon their first NHL appearance. In fact, players of Nils’ age and draft position can often be lucky to crack their NHL team’s lineup at all. However, with Höglander it looks like the Canucks have struck gold if he can keep up his current performance.
The benefit of a piece like Höglander from the Canucks perspective is that he has the potential to be a high production low-cost staple for their lineup. This would allow the team to free up capital through to the end of his ELC (the 2022-23 season), should they need that money for Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, or any additions that they seek to make during the coming year.
In a normal season, with a healthy roster, Höglander should not be playing top-six minutes at this stage of his development. The young Canuck still has room to improve, and a slot a little further down the lineup would likely give him a bit more flexibility to grow. With a spot further down the roster, he wouldn’t have to constantly be matched up against the opposing team’s top players. Höglander has filled in on the top six due to injury and has done a respectable job, but when the Canucks are healthy, Höglander should make for excellent depth on the Canucks middle six, rather than their top.
Brock is a Rockstar
This season started with worries about Elias Pettersson and his performance. However, EP40 had shown reason to squash that worry with his performance in games leading up to his absence on March 2nd. As we covered earlier in the season with an article on this topic, Pettersson’s early-season situation echoed that of performance issues that Brock Boeser faced with his production in parts of last season.
Brock has been plagued with multiple large-scale injuries during his career so far, and although his production has taken a dip upon some of his returns from injury, it seems that he has long since busted any slump from last season. Brock sits as the top point-earning Canuck so far this season, with a points total of 33, placing him above J.T. Miller who sits second on that leaderboard with 29 points.
In a turbulent Canucks season Brock has remained a strong force for this team. Back in January, even before he proved himself this season, Boeser’s belief in his ability to bounce back this year was high. In January Boeser stated: “I’m feeling confident and I feel like my shot is back where it was in my first year.”
Boeser at 24 years old will reach the end of his 3 year, $5.8 million per, deal at the conclusion of next season. If his performance continues at a team-leading high, then a new contract with the Canucks will definitely be tricky to navigate. Boeser will, unfortunately, be feasting at the table after Pettersson and Hughes take their slices with their new deals this off-season. A new Boeser deal could potentially become even more challenging if the Canucks plan to re-sign and retain Tanner Pearson.
Contract worries aside, if Boeser’s performance holds strong and he re-signs beyond the 2021-22 season, then he would no doubt be a huge piece for the Canucks in their next push to be truly competitive again. Too much talent is a good problem to have, after all, it’s maybe just not a good problem for Aquilini’s wallet.
Vesey and Boyd Could be a Budget Minded Canucks Dream
Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd both recently joined the Canucks roster as waiver pickups off of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Combined both players have a cap hit of $1.6 Mil with Vesey at $900k and Boyd at $700k. Boyd has yet to play with the Canucks, as he had only just exited his quarantine.
Boyd was on the ice for his first practice with his new team on the very day that Gaudette got pulled and the whole chain of events with COVID started to unfold. Vesey however has at least played four games with the Canucks, and although that sample size is very small, he seems to have fit in with this team. Vesey had been asked to play top-six minutes due to injuries the team was facing and he has yet to seem out of his depth or look out of place.
Seeing a less than $1 Mil Vesey on the ice, putting up respectable performances under a high TOI, is an interesting contrast for this team when compared to someone like Antoine Roussel, who is a $3 Mil bottom-six forward. A thought experiment like this opens eyes to the possibility of the Canucks signing players like Vesey and Boyd to longer deals in order to replace depth that they are currently overpaying for.
A hope for the Canucks would be that they didn’t just grab these two players off of waivers in the last year of their deals, just to let them walk in the off-season. These players could be cheap to re-sign and keep if they perform well, or they could be used as bargaining chips in negotiating contracts for players like Pearson. Jim Benning may essentially be able to use Vesey and Boyd in a classic “oh ya well another guy quoted me a cheaper price, so I’ll just go with him.” kinda way. Of course, cheaper isn’t always better, but still, neither is overpaying for something that could cost a fraction of the price.
Done Deal Demko
The most recent non-COVID development for the team has been the Thatcher Demko deal. The news came at a weird time as, The Canucks were in the process of being shut down and it also came in a weird way, as owner Francesco Aquilini tweeted out the update before any news from Canucks PR or the GM came out.
Regardless of the way we learned about the news, Demko’s deal of 5 years x $5 Mil per is a very team-friendly deal considering his recent top-of-the-league level performance. This deal was also not expected to happen, at least not right now, as stars Pettersson and Hughes also expire this year, and are without deals that will come with larger price tags. What this deal shows though, is that Demko clearly wants to be here.
Demko’s deal puts his timeline with the Canucks past that of a bridge deal, so they now don’t need to worry about re-signing him as soon as the team starts to become competitive again.
What may be lost in some of the Demko excitement though, is that the sample size for Demko’s abilities in NHL games is still very small. Demko has only played 62 games in the National Hockey League, not even a full regular season’s worth. However, while Thatcher Demko is young and still untested in the grand scheme of things, the Canucks have had Demko in their system between Utica and Vancouver for seven years. They clearly feel that they have an understanding of what type of player he is, and what type of player he’ll grow into.
With the Canucks COVID cases still on the uptick at one or two a day, it’s hard to imagine this team back on the ice anytime soon. Contracting a pandemic inciting illness is probably not something that every player will bounce back from as quickly as the NHL is hoping. Even still, giving the players all the time they need to fully recover should be the primary focus of the NHL.
This last week has looked dark for the Canucks, but hopefully, this article helped you to not lose sight of some positive elements that have come out of this season so far.
Hopefully, for Canucks fans there will be even more positivity going around next season when spectators are allowed back in the building. Then everyone can all pretend that this season was some kind of bizarre group fever dream that never really happened. I’m sure most people would like to have that cathartic experience with the whole of 2020 as well.