By: Brayden Fengler / February 8, 2022
Here we are, the Canucks are hanging onto a playoff race by the thinnest of margins coming out of the All-Star Break, the unofficial halfway mark of the season.
A lot has happened this season to date already, so we at StadiumChinatown.ca decided it would be a great time to dust off the best train-related pun we have and bring back the Expo-sition for a quick recap of every major thing that this Canucks team has gone through to date this season.
Both Trent and Brayden will collaborate on this piece, each writing or commenting on all the topics it hits. Let’s get this caboose in gear and look at the first half of the Canucks’ season.
Not The Team We Expected
– Trent –
This is not the team we expected the Canucks to be, in a lot of different ways. Since starting the season there has been a new coach, a new GM, a POHO, and a new front office altogether, but we will get to that later. Here I want to talk about the player’s performances.
No one expected this team to have a strong defence, but we did expect the team to be one that is able to score. Well, the Canucks are 29th in the league at five-on-five scoring to this point in the season… hang on, the team that was expected to make a playoff push on the back of its high-end offence is 29th in goals for at evens?
Okay ouch, that doesn’t pair well with a defence that we expected to be among the league’s worst! Well, hang on to your hats bucko, I got another weird one for you.
The Canucks, the team with Poolman tied up for 3 more seasons, the one with OEL and Myers being overpaid late in their careers, the one where Hammonic is basically MIA for this season, is leading the league in fewest goals against at five-on-five. Let me say that again, the Canucks have let in the fewest amount of goals at even strength in the entire NHL. Who saw that coming? Let me tell you, not me.
So what’s the problem you ask? No, you didn’t ask, if you’re reading this you already know what the problem is, it’s the PK. The Canucks enter this break with a league-worst 69.9 PK%.
The Canucks are keeping company with teams like the Arizona Coyotes and the Montreal Canadiens in that stat, and that’s not the company that a team with these expectations should be keeping. The Canucks set an NHL record for worst PK% earlier this season and are flirting with setting the overall season record as well.
The powerplay isn’t saving anyone’s bacon either at only 18.9% and 20th in the league. There are a lot of reasons that this Canucks team has fallen flat on their face this year, especially in the stretch up to December. But to summarize it’s the special teams and the five-on-five offence that is sinking this team right now.
– Brayden’s Response –
I’d love to take a different stance than Trent here and tell you that I believe this team has actually performed well and that there are only brighter days ahead for them. However, a stance like that is not a luxury that anyone who has watched this team since October can realistically have.
There have been bright spots as Trent mentions, in Miller’s performance to highlight an individual, and in the team’s unfathomably good goals against record while playing at five on five. But as a familiar voice in this market might say, on the whole, there just hasn’t been enough “there, there” when it comes to the overall performance of the Canucks. Their story has been one that lacks consistency.
It hasn’t been without some remarkable highs and some dreadful lows, but the one thing they haven’t been is consistent. Trent is right that this is not where we all likely expected the Canucks to be when we looked ahead at the beginning of this season. The fitting thing about that statement is that it’s not inherently good or bad, it’s simply just very fitting for these Vancouver Canucks.
From Benning to Winning
– Brayden –
It’s not every year, and especially not any year within the last eight years, that the biggest news during a Canucks season came in relation to events that took place off the ice. This year, however, that is undoubtedly the case.
Even passive Canucks fans couldn’t have avoided hearing about the moves made behind the scenes this season. With those moves being that the entire “behind the scenes” was gutted, in the favour of hiring an all-new crew.
The change-ups began with the most notable firings in General Manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green, both being let go on the same day back in early December. In a recent piece here on the site, we provided a detailed breakdown of all the hirings and firings that the organization has gone through since that fateful December day.
If you’d like a more in-depth rundown of each of the individuals that the Canucks have recently brought on and let go, that article will provide all you need to know. However, the question aimed to be answered in part in this article, is now that the hirings (for the most part) seem to all be made, what comes next with this newly formed management team/ coaching staff?
The Results So Far
Since it’s only just now passed the two month mark since Jim Benning’s firing, there hasn’t yet been enough time to see any notable on-ice translations between any recent front office decisions, and the team’s day-to-day performance.
This is of course expected from a front-office standpoint, but of course, one area where there has been a notable change after the recent firings, has been the team’s all-around improved play under their new head coach Bruce Boudreau. Bruce started his time behind the Canucks bench with a seven-game winning streak, a stark contrast to the direction that Green’s Canucks were heading in the games prior, as their last seven games under Green had them at a 2-5-0 record.
Currently Bruce’s Canucks are 12-5-4, not a bad record at all, especially considering that if the season started with Bruce’s tenure, this team would be 12th in the league in overall points.
Bruce’s offensive first style has clearly struck a chord with the Canucks and not in a “your lame cousin wants to show you that he learned how to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ in music class” kind of way, but more in a “the party is dying but some brave soul picks up the neglected acoustic and starts playing ‘Wonderwall’” kinda way. (To me that’s a good thing, by the way, I realize that example may be subjective).
There is a worry that Bruce’s technique of having an aggressive PK and making the team apply pressure in ways that they weren’t with their last coach, may not be wholly sustainable. But for now, it’s working, and after the start to the year that this club had, the last thing they should want to do is overthink a good thing.
Penguins but in Vancouver
Shortly after Mr. Aquilini announced that the Canucks would begin a “long and exhaustive” search for a GM, he went out and hired Jim Rutherford, to head up that search for him, by taking on the newly formed role of President of Hockey Operations. A position the likes of which this team had not seen since 2018 with Trevor Linden.
With the exception of Boudreau, Rutherford has rightfully so been the busiest new hire. He’s been the driving force behind not just hiring a GM and letting said GM build out his or her team, but rather Rutherford has been taking a larger-scale approach by building out every corner of the front office before hiring a GM to oversee it. He ultimately hired Patrik Allvin as the Canucks new GM and two new AGM’s in Émilie Castonguay, and Derek Clancey.
Rutherford’s most recent job in the NHL was of course with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he experienced a great deal of success, raising multiple Stanley Cups alongside the team. This is why it’s hardly shocking that out of the three managerial hires I just listed, two of them are former Penguins front office staff from Rutherford’s days in the Burgh.
Allvin who recently served as the Penguins AGM, was himself in contention for the Penguins GM role that Rutherford left open, as fate would have it Allvin wouldn’t just be a GM after Rutherford, but also “under” Rutherford as well. Clancey is equally decorated with the black and gold club, serving as a pro-scout and then director of pro scouting with the team.
So now that Rutherford has built his Penguins away from Pittsburgh in the front office, Canucks fans will be anxiously waiting to see if this group can emulate any degree of that success here in Vancouver. What should be most exciting though to Canucks fans is not who’s on this team, but how the team was built off the ice.
With the last Canucks front office team it seemed like there were only ever two men in charge. If the team was performing well, Benning was in charge, if the team was underperforming, then Aquilini appeared to be in charge through Benning. However, this new Canucks management team seems to have been built in a way to avoid an unhealthy structure such as that.
The beauty of what Rutherford has done, is that he’s built a team with a diversity of skill sets that demand to be used together. Decisions made in isolation, by one individual at the top will likely be anything but the norm on this iteration of the Vancouver Canucks.
Despite how active the rumour mill has been over these last few weeks, this new management team has not made any big trades just yet. Halak, Miller, Garland, (which Trent will get into), have all been the talk of the town in their own ways when it comes to potential trades. Each of those names could imply a different path forward for the Canucks.
Regrettably, the only bad thing to come out of Bruce’s stellar performance with the team, is that it’s muddied the waters in terms of easily predicting how this new management group may look to evaluate this team in both the short and long term. It’s unclear if Rutherford has let the team’s short-term success affect his decisions in terms of his long-term game plan for the team, but from the outside looking in, it makes many different directions plausible.
The first trade that the Canucks’ new leaders make, or don’t make will be a telling sign of their overall game plan for the future. For now, though speculation can only run more rampant until that day comes.
– Trent’s Response –
It is not exactly a hot take to say that Jim Benning wasn’t cutting it as a GM in Vancouver. Two playoff appearances in eight years is not acceptable.
Not to mention the one time the Canucks did make the playoffs late in Benning’s tenure, it was in a playoff format that was altered to allow them to participate in the postseason, when that may have not even been the case in a normal year.
The Canucks had been at the bottom of the league for far too long. Changes in the front office, and behind the bench were overdue for the Canucks and their replacements have been absolute home runs to date.
Boudreau has managed to find an extra gear in this team that Travis Green was no longer able to find. Boudreau is among the NHL’s most successful regular season coaches of all time, and it’s clear watching the Canucsk why that is the case.
Jim Rutherford is a three-time Cup winner in front office roles. Rutherford knows what it takes to win, and what it takes to be competitive and is looking to carry that winning pedigree in Vancouver.
The Canucks went out and got two of the best candidates available, and are continuing that trend to fill out the rest of the front office. All signs are trending to the Canucks being among the highest spending off-ice teams in the league for the first time since the Mike Gillis era.
As Brayden pointed out, a lot of the Canucks front office looks like the Penguins’ old front office, and if you’re basing your team on one of the most successful teams in the cap era, that’s not a bad place to start. I am really liking the direction the Canucks are taking, even if there is a step back coming in the short term.
– Trent –
When a team goes all in like the Jim Benning-led Canucks did in the offseason and they skid as far as they have, changes get made, both on and off the ice. The off-ice changes have come, but the on-ice changes have yet to come, but now with a new leadership group in place, they are definitely on their way, especially with that leadership group containing Jim Rutherford at the helm.
Some names have floated to the top of the trade rumour pile like Jaroslav Halak, and Tyler Motte. But now bigger names are getting thrown around, the two with the most weight seem to be J.T. Miller and Conor Garland.
JT Miller is arguably the best skater on the Vancouver Canucks this season, he has the most goals with 15 and is leading the rest of the team by 10 points, with 44 total. He is a player at the absolute height of his powers, and on a very digestible $5.25M contract so why is he being circulated in rumours?
For a few reasons really, first, good players, on good deals are going to be a hot commodity to other teams, it’s what championships are built on.
The second reason is Jim Rutherford has expressed a desire to get away from the upper limits of the cap until the team is closer to being a bonafide contender, Miller has a $5.25M cushion for him that could return quite a haul of assets.
The third reason is he will be 30 years old when his contract is up at the end of next season and will likely be looking for a long-term, large-money deal that might not fit into the Canuck’s competitive window as Rutherford and Allvin see it.
Conor Garland is attractive to the teams for all the same reasons as Miller, but his contract is $4.95M for 5 more seasons after this. Garland has cooled off for the Canucks since Boudreau came to town, but he is still fifth on the team in points. The difference between Miller and Garland is that Garland is only 25-years-old.
Conor being younger makes him more likely to fit this team’s long-term plan, but on the other hand, a cost-controlled player is an asset that can net you a lot more in return than a player on a soon-to-be-expiring deal like Miller’s.
No Matter how you slice it, this team is going to need some work, the new front office has already made that clear, so changes are no doubt coming. The question is what do those changes end up looking like? Time will tell as we approach the deadline. For now, I’d recommend not buying any jerseys without the numbers, 35, 43, 53, or 40 on the back.
– Brayden’s Response –
Regardless if you are a fan of Halak, Miller, or Garland, one thing that is refreshing about the rumours surrounding them, is that the idea of trading any one of them, from the outside looking in, makes at least some degree of sense.
That is not something that was always the case in the Benning era, we all know the feeling of questioning a Benning trade rumour the moment it hit our news feed, but with the players that have been floating around the rumour mill in the Rutherford and Allvin era, there haven’t been any names that raise too many eyebrows.
In my mind, I think that the window to trade Halak is all but closed. He’s now just one game away from reaching his first bonus which requires him to get at least 10 starts to earn an extra $1.25M on the year. Halak may provide as much value in backing up Demko, as he could potentially garner on the trade market at this point.
In terms of a Garland or Miller Trade. I would sooner like to see Miller go, as even though as Trent mentioned, Garland has cooled off a bit under coach Bruce, he has still demonstrated enough on the season to prove that his less than $5M AAV contract, is an absolute steal.
A steal that might garner a haul on the trade market, yes, but Garland is the type of player that the Canucks could easily build around instead, and is the type of player that I would even hope to get back in a trade for J.T. Miller. Moving Miller is the play I’d like to see for the future, moving Garland on the other hand makes me nervous for the future.
Warranted and Unwarranted Concerns about Elias Pettersson
– Brayden –
We here at StadiumChinatown.ca have not exactly been singing Elias Pettersson’s praises during his long and short-term slumps over the past years. This year alone we have written a number of pieces calling into question the performance of the Swedish All-Star.
Pettersson should be chart-topping the Canucks team in points, based on the potential he has demonstrated in past seasons, and due to the incentive provided by his recent $7.35M AAV contract, yet unfortunately, that is not the case.
Unfortunately, whilst players like J.T. Miller have been consistently strong all year and players like Brock Boeser have strived under Boudreau. Petey is still only playing an acceptable, but not an exceptional level of Hockey.
This is not to say he isn’t making any impact at all, but from a player of his caliber, he should be leading his team in production much more than he has been. This can all sound like Petey is being asked to reach an unfair bar, but it’s a bar that he has been known to reach in the past. So although this and articles like it can sound nitpicky, it is more than warranted when considering the player that we should all know Pettersson is capable of being.
Regrettably, though, we may be approaching a point where Petey has just been too average for too long, and we may have to consider these long stretches of average performance as an understood occurrence in his game.
Petey has not moved around the team’s leaderboard much this year, he’s stayed in either fifth or fourth in production for the team during most of the season. On the year he now sits fourth with 24 points, 11 of those being goals, and all coming in 46 games. This is far from the point a game player that he should be. For reference to what that looks like Miller currently sits with 44 points in 44 games on the year.
Petey is even still fourth in production when just looking at games played under Boudreau. Which is in terms of silver linings is marginally better than his standings under Green, as he sat fifth in point production on the team during Travis’ time with the club this season.
The main concern here is that never once this year has Pettersson looked like a team-leading player for more than just a few days. He did recently string together four points in 3 games, in the club’s recent matchups against St. Louis, Edmonton and Winnipeg, but unfortunately, since then he has gone an additional three games without producing a single point.
Petey is a player that has always seemed to need a long runway to get himself going again after a slump. When he struggled out of the gate last season it took him 11 games before he could string together at least three consecutive games with a point to his name.
A track record like this makes hindsight seem 20/20 when considering what missing training camp did to his chances of producing off the hop to start this season. Then you take that disruption and compile it with the team’s overall slow start, the recent COVID stoppage, and now the All-Star break right after he had a string of cold games. It seems as though the universe is out to spoil this man’s chances of building the momentum he needs.
I do not think Petey is a bust or a bad player, he is not Loui despite what that frightening tweet suggests. He’s simply still young, he needs help, and hopefully, if he can’t get it this season, he’ll have better odds going into next season, with a whole off-season of training towards a new coaches system. For this year, however, I just don’t think Petey is going to be able to bump his average slump.
– Trent –
That Loui tweet scares me. A lot. I know Pettersson isn’t Loui, but… what if you know? Players have down seasons and they bounce back, but not often does a player have such a long stretch of elite hockey under their belt to then have a stretch like he is in the midst of now.
Pettersson is showing that his peaks are Everest-like, and his valleys are Marianas Trench-like. If you asked me two months ago, I would have said Pettersson is going to get back to his higher-end sooner than later, but now I am a little more skeptical of that. I really don’t know what to make of Pettersson.
At this point, the season is a write-off for Pettersson in terms of being consistently elite. It’s now about getting some confidence back and coming into next season on a better foot. If the Canucks are ever going to succeed with Pettersson on the team, it will need to be on his back.
He is likely to return to form at least to some degree. But I won’t say that comparison to Loui won’t keep me up at night.
And Now We Wait
The story of the Canucks so far this year has been a story of stops and starts and complete turn arounds. Very rarely at this stage of a season are there so many different directions still plausible for a team. It’s reasonable to think that the Canucks could buckle down, experience very few player moves, and make an effort to make the playoffs.
But it’s also plausible that this new leadership group, despite the short-term success that this team has seen, could still feel that “blowing it up” for lack of a better word, is still the best play for their long-term health.
Franky didn’t hire Jim Rutherford, just for Jim to decide that the team is fine the way it is. Odds are that Jim at some point this season will be inclined to make moves that may shock some Canucks fans in the short term, but will be in line with the vision he likely pitched to Franky upon his hiring.
Jim likely has some big ideas up his sleeve. Regardless of how well this team continues to do, there is a good chance that Canucks fans will be witnessing these big ideas sooner rather than later.