By: Brayden Fengler / April 28, 2023
The Canucks regular season has come and gone, and for many Canucks fans it couldn’t have gone fast enough. This time last year the Canucks sat on the outside looking in after a year when the organization claimed that making the playoffs was a must. Now one year later, with a new management group at the helm for a full season, and a similar sentiment about making the playoffs, the club is still in the same spot in April of 2023.
A quick reflection like this can make hope for this team feel like an unaffordable luxury. But just like how the Leafs feel that every year is going to be different for them, and they are finally going to make it out of the first round, there can be a sense in Vancouver, that next year will be different for the club as well. With that said, however, there is a mountain of work to do between now and that actually happening. With Patrik Allvin and Rich Tocchet’s recent end-of-season presser, they have provided Canucks fans with a few clear-cut goals to mark down, as well as a handful of things to “worry about” as the off-season unfolds.
The Teams Medical Future
The Canucks couldn’t even make it through the first month of 2023 before a major off-ice controversy picked up steam and threw new doubt upon the Canucks organization and specifically their medical staff. All stemming from a quote from Canucks defencemen Quinn Hughes, when he was asked about Tanner Pearson and his prolonged hand injury. Quinn was quoted saying at the beginning of the year:
“I feel bad for him. I mean, it wasn’t handled properly, and you know, it’s not really a good situation he’s got there, and hopefully, he’s going to be alright,”
We covered that particular string of events that unfolded after Quinn’s comment if you need a refresher, but if that time in Canucks history is still fresh in your mind then you will remember that it was not a pretty one.
After Quinn’s comment, the Canucks called a press conference with the team’s top medical staff, in order to make an attempt at dispelling all the negative press that they had been getting after what Quinn had stated. Quinn’s comments encouraged journalists and fans to look a little bit deeper at how Tanner’s situation was handled and how the medical department in Vancouver was run in general.
It was reported by Rick Dhaliwal back in January that to that point Pearson had undergone at least three different hand surgeries. After which, his timeline for return was only growing, and as we sit at the end of April, it’s evident that the timeline hasn’t even seemed to shrink since then.
What’s worrying here goes far beyond Tanner’s specific case, although professionally and personally it is no short of a scary situation. The real reason to worry about the Canucks’ handling of this situation and what it means for the future is that Allvin still does not seem to be motivated to implement any large sweeping changes to Vancouver’s medical team, whether that’s personal or policy.
During the end-of-season availability, Allvin gave standard answers about evaluating their medical operations, but when pressed by Ian Mcintyre about reviewing the medical team this off-season, Allvin cited that the medical team “faced a lot of injuries” this season, and went on to lament how hard it was for them. I’m no expert, but if injuries are hard for a professional sports medical team to handle, that is not something that they should be getting a pass on.
The Never-Ending Search for a Three “C”
Like Plankton after the ever-elusive crabby patty formula, another year has come and gone, and the Canucks are still searching for a reliable third centre. Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller are still the team’s undeniable best options up the middle, and this is excluding the whole “Should J.T. really be a centre or a winger” debate, which at this point the team does not seem too interested in entertaining anymore. Miller is a full-time centreman now thanks to other moves that the team has made, most notably trading former captain Bo Horvat, Miller’s need up the middle has only increased.
Yet here we are again, the Canucks can’t seem to find that third centre that can slot into the much-needed middle six roll night after night. Allvin made multiple comments during the end-of-season availability about spending more time assessing the value of the players that they already have in their system, versus trying to look at acquiring those solutions in free agency.
This doesn’t tell Vancouver Canucks fans a whole lot about what the actual plan is for acquiring such a key piece of the lineup, however. Although the management staff is relatively new compared to the tenure of the last one, the club’s prospect cabinet has not received a drastic level of changes since the new management group has taken over. If there was an internal solution would the Canucks not have already found it by now?
New prospects are added to the team’s system every year and old prospects can develop in unexpected ways from one season to the next, but it’s unfortunate that the Canucks’ cap restraints have forced them to continue to look internally to find a solution to the third line centre problem, a place where they’ve already been looking for quite some time.
Who Will Be the Next Captain
This is a question that was asked in a handful of different ways during the Canucks’ end-of-season media availability with Allvin and Tocchet. The question was deflected just about as many times.
The “who” is less of a question, there are really only so many options, with the front-runner in the eyes of many fans being Elias Pettersson. Behind him, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller are also potential options, at least in the eyes of Rick Tocchet. That for sure is something to worry about, as Miller is suffice it to say a bit of a “character”. Character guys are great, but often times it’s not those guys that excel as leaders. Leaders in many ways are role models, a person that if every player on the team, worked to emulate their game and their qualities, that team as a whole would succeed.
Could you imagine a whole team of EP40s? That would be fantastic! The Canucks would be a well-rounded group of professional, calculated and patient individuals that would possess qualities that would no doubt allow them to work together as a cohesive unit. The same could also be said for a version of the Canucks with Quinn Hughes at the helm. However, an entire team with the mindset and attitude of J.T. Miller… I don’t know if any team could survive that for long. Miller has passion, but even Miller himself has admitted during numerous end-of-season interviews, that at times things got away from him this year, that his frustration caused him to act in ways that he has since regretted.
Rick Tocchet though seems to have a connection with Miller and understands him as a player more so than coach Bruce did in his time with the Canucks. Could Rick’s personal appreciation for the type of player that Miller is, cause him to slap the “C” on Miller’s jersey? Probably not, but with no clear timeline on when the Canucks will be announcing their next captain, there still leaves wiggle room for anything to happen. Rick has said that a big part of defining the next leader will have to do with the opinions of the guys in the room. So hopefully enough players in the room can recognize that Miller, as great of a player as he is, may not be the most suitable captain.
Buyouts Are Out of the Questions?
The topic of buyouts was of course brought up to Allvin during his end-of-season media availability, and the Canucks GM did not seem too eager to go down that road.
Allvin specifically mentioned that he is reluctant about using buyouts as a solution to get out of bad contracts as decisions like that may “affect them down the road”. To which many people likely screamed at their TV “EXACTLY”. Buyouts would no doubt affect the Canucks down the road, in providing them with more much-needed cap space and flexibility to build the contending playoff team that they are so intent on building as soon as possible.
Allvin spoke about his disappointment in OEL this season, when he was healthy enough to play, but did not make it sound like buyouts are something that the team is exploring with OEL or any other player for that matter. Allvin also said that he has “ownership’s support” when talking about the topic of buyouts. Still, he continued to make it sound like buyouts were not a direction that he was particularly interested in going.
It’s no wonder that Allvin has ownership’s full support if he is insistent on trying to improve this team without spending extra money to buy out contracts that are holding it back.
Allvin said it himself when the topic of a new practice facility was brought up “Maybe Jim should’ve been here.” Allvin was clearly not the man to answer this question as the logistics and efforts involved in securing the Canucks a new practice facility seem outside the scope of what Allvin is focused on and concerned about on a daily basis.
From what little Allvin could provide on this topic, it still just sounds like the Canucks ownership and the City of Vancouver are talking in circles if they are even talking at all. There has been nothing formal put forward that would be any news since the last time this topic was mentioned when Rutherford and Allvin first joined the organization. Making substantial efforts to keep the ball rolling in regards to a practice facility could’ve been a nice off-ice win for Rutherford and company had there been any positive news on this subject since this time last year.
Arenas are not built overnight so that much was not expected to have happened already, but it is disappointing that the conversations, from what it sounds like, are still at the same stages they were a year ago. A practice facility would provide the Canucks more flexibility and further development opportunities that they simply can not put on at the moment when they need to share a facility like Rogers Arena as much as they do.
There is a lot for Canucks fans to chew on between now and next season. Will we have a clearly defined leader in the form of a new captain within the course of the next season? Will the team cave and make any meaningful buyouts in order to better position themselves for sustainable success? These questions and more will no doubt be hotly discussed around patios and cabin porches over the months ahead.
For now, do yourself a favour if you’re a Canucks fan, reading a Canucks article in April, watch some good playoff hockey and try to enjoy the warm weather, before the cool fall weather and stressful Canucks season sneaks up on us all once again.