By: Brayden Fengler / March 30, 2022
The Canucks have a total of 14 games left on their schedule, and as has been the case for the last few months, their short-term future is still very much in a state of flux. Looking at a team like the Seattle Kraken, they are well out of a playoff race and only focused on next season.
On the other side of that coin, you have a team like the Calgary Flames, who are unequivocally in the Stanley Cup race, with no reason to stress about the games ahead of the playoffs. However, the Canucks exist in that ever-shrinking mushy middle. They’re good, but by no means great, they have stars, but not enough depth.
Do they try to make a playoff appearance, or do they not? With the trade deadline behind the team, that decision is in the player’s hands now more than ever. But with a current playoff percentage of 10% according to Dom Luszczyszyn’s model, how much can this team really change their fate?
Running In Place
The Canucks’ playoff odds percentage has been like Spring temperature, hovering around, and at times, over 10, but it’s not been too much higher, in recent weeks. The Canucks have the lowest double-digit playoff odds in the league. With 10% playoff odds they only sit above their division rival The San Jose Sharks, who hold a grim 1% chance at making the playoffs.
As has been the case with nearly every story surrounding the Canucks this season, they are down but not out. Their odds may be slim, and the distance between them and the top of their division is insurmountable, but the distance between them and a wild card spot is comedically still within reach.
What The Future Holds
The Canucks have just over two dozen games left on their calendar, including tonight’s rematch against the St. Louis Blues. A positive out of the gate for the Canucks, is that nine of their 14 games remaining are going to be played at home in Rogers Arena.
After the Canucks next two contests against St. Louis and The Vegas Golden Knights, they will fly down to The Weekend City and immediately face off against the Golden Knights once more. From there they will pop over to Arizona for their second to last contest with the Yotes, and then Horvat and Co. will head home for a nice five-game home stretch.
The only taxing travel period that the Canucks have left on their season, will be during their last trip to the states. They will have one day off between playing The Minnesota Wild in the Hockey state and then playing the Calgary Flames in the Saddledome. Ultimately though, the Canucks have an extremely favourable schedule as they head into the last stretch of their regular season. It’s what they do with this schedule that is the big question.
Who Can They Beat
Of The Canucks’ remaining games this season they have six contests in particular that they should have the least issues with. If the Canucks can’t walk away with wins in these six games, then their hopes for a playoff appearance will become extremely dim.
The Arizona Coyotes
The Canucks have two games left on the schedule with the Central Division bottom feeders the Arizona Coyotes. AZ sits last in their division, and in their last 10 games, they have held an unsurprising 3-6-1 spread. Like their attendance records, their chances of reaching the playoffs are non-existent.
Their current production should give the Canucks little to worry about, as they approach their games against the desert dwellers. These Arizona outings are games that Jaroslav Halak should start in net, as both matchups in question come after the Canucks play Vegas. The games against the Golden Knights are immeasurably more important games for the Canucks.
Let Demko take the two upcoming Vegas games, and the two Coyotes games that follow them should be backstopped by Halak. The Canucks should be so lucky that they have this load management template built into their schedule.
The Seattle Kraken
It almost goes without saying that the Canucks should claim their fourth win this season against the Seattle Kraken, and complete the season series sweep.
The Kraken are awful, not everyone can be The Golden Knights, but hell, Seattle can’t even be the Silver Knights. Yes, this expansion team started out bad, not to mention the fact that they’ve now traded away what little they had going for them in the way of players like Mason Appleton, and Marc Giordano, both leaving around this year’s trade deadline.
Seattle is last in the Pacific Division, and they haven’t put up more than six goals against the Canucks in all three of their combined contests this year. This is a must and can-win game for Vancouver.
The Ottawa Senators
The Canucks will play the Senators for the second time this season on April 19th, with the Travis Green Canucks wiping the floor with them 6-2 back in early December. If that iteration of this Canucks team can produce against the Senators, then this time they should have no issues either.
The Canucks may be a little gassed from playing the Dallas Stars the night before, while also finding time to pack their suitcases, as they head for Minnesota the next day. But if there’s a team that you want to play on a back-to-back, as you’re packing up your travel bag and saying goodbye to the wife and kids, it’s Ottawa.
The San Jose Sharks
Now back to the Pacific Division, the Canucks have their final of three seasonal matchups with the Sharks on April 9th. The Canucks have walked away victorious in both contests earlier in the season. VAN left with a win in their first contest with the Sharks during the Boudreau bump in December, beating the Bay Area team 5-2.
The Canucks then walked away with an OT victory, in a high-scoring 5-4 game in late February. The Sharks are like the Canucks after 2011, they still have good players, undoubtedly so, but they’re getting old, they’re getting slow, the young guys aren’t there to bring the speed and as a result, they’re falling out of the limelight. The Sharks sit just behind the Canucks in the Pacific at sixth.
Although this isn’t a team that the Canucks need to leapfrog in the standings, at this stage every win for the Canucks is critical, and playing the Sharks should give them a chance at an easy one.
The Dallas Stars
Dallas, like Vegas, is a team that the Canucks will be battling with most closely for a wild card spot. They currently sit above the Canucks by just two points and are next in line for that wild card spot if Vegas falls from grace. The Canucks handed Dallas two losses already this season, and both of those games were sizable wins, as the Canucks’ season total goals differential with Dallas is 6+ in favour of Vancouver.
Dallas is the Canucks’ counterpart in the Central, as they both sit 5th in their division. The Stars though have a net-zero record to show for in their last 10 games, walking away from that stretch with a perfectly balanced 5-5-0 record. Unfortunately, though, Dallas has four games in hand over the Canucks, which makes it all the more important that when the Canucks cross paths with them for the final time this season, they make that meeting count.
The Bumps In The Road
The Canucks have five remaining games on their schedule that they are by no means going to be favoured to win. If the Canucks can grab a victory out of any of these contests, that would be an unexpected bonus on their way to any potential playoff appearance, but if not, well that would hardly be unexpected.
The St. Louis Blues
What more is there to say, Ville Husso and the Blues showed the Canucks what it’s like to be goalied in their last contest, and the Canucks clearly did not like that feeling coming back their way. The Blues are third in the Central and haven’t let the Canucks grab a win from them once this season.
I would not expect tonight to be any different. Vladimir Tarasenko clearly has this whole team’s number, and even Brad Hunt can’t carry the Canucks all the way to a victory on his own. If the Canuck’s can pull a win out of this contest, that would certainly be helpful for them, but it’s looking like this Blues game will only add to the hole that Vancouver is trying to dig themselves out of.
The Minnesota Wild
On April 21st the Canucks will be in Minnesota, playing the Wild for the third time this season. In both prior meetings, Minnesota handed the Canucks a narrow 3-2 loss. The Canucks have already faced the post-trade deadline Wild in a contest on March 24th, so at least that element won’t catch them off-guard.
But nevertheless, the Wild’s team is deep, with the likes of Kirill Kaprizov, Frederick Gaudreau, Marcus Foligno, all on different lines from one another and all making it difficult for opposing teams to play against them. Perhaps the Wild will have their foot off the gas a bit by April 21st, having likely already clinched a solid playoff spot by that point, maybe the Canucks can catch them sleeping. But if not, if the Wild are still hungry for a pre-playoff snack, then the Canucks might be it.
The Calgary Flames
After playing Minnesota, as mentioned earlier, the Canucks will then be treated to a contest against their divisional leader the Calgary Flames. What more can be said about this one. The Canucks pulled one over on the Flames, in their 7-1 victory against the Alberta team back in February, but the Flames bit back, defeating the Canucks 5-2 in their most recent matchup.
By this point the Canucks will be but a bug on the Flames’ windshield as they hold themselves in cruise control on their way to the playoffs and a divisional championship. If there is a prescribed loss in the Canucks’ schedule, it’s gotta be this one.
The Los Angeles Kings
The Kings currently sit second in the Pacific and have traded wins with the Canucks through the course of this season. In their next contest with Vancouver, you can expect the Kings to still be hungry for those end-of-season wins, as they have been on a bit of a slide compared to their 1st and 3rd place Pacific Division counterparts in recent games.
The Kings now sit just one win above the Edmonton Oilers for 2nd place in the Pacific, and the Oilers have one game in hand over the Kings. You can expect the Kings and the Oilers to be jockeying for position up until the very end. The Canucks and Kings haven’t met since their first two contests in December, and a lot has changed since then. There is a chance that this game could be an expected loss that the Canucks end up stealing, but the odds aren’t in their favour.
The Edmonton Oilers
The Canucks will be finishing their season in Edmonton on April 29th. In a flipped script from the Canucks’ contests with Seattle, Edmonton has bested the Canucks in all three of their matchups to date this season. Edmonton is in it, but they’re far from clinched, and they will likely be petal to the metal until their 82nd game is played.
If by some series of bizarre events this last game against the Oilers actually has a chance to affect the Canucks making or not making the playoffs, the Canucks will have their odds insurmountably stacked against them. McDavid’s Oilers have seemingly possessed the cheat codes to the Canucks all season.
The Vegas of It All
If you’ve been doing the math, then you will have no doubt recognized that there are still a few more games left on the Canucks schedule that I have not yet discussed. There are three games that are arguably the most important contests that Vancouver needs to win if they hope to enter this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Those games are of course the three remaining games that Vancouver has against Vegas, the team currently holding the second wild card spot just three points above them in the standings. Vegas is the Canucks’ biggest roadblock, if they let Vegas take the W in their next outings together, then it almost doesn’t matter what else happens in the 11 other non-Vegas games left on the schedule.
But if they can sweep these three games against the Golden Knights, and hope that Vegas’ odds dip dramatically, like they did a few weeks ago after a string of losses, then there is a real chance for the Canucks to squeak into the playoffs.
Vegas did get the upper hand on the Canucks in their most recent outing, but more recent performances by both clubs makes their playing field a little bit more even than it was the last time the two met. Still, Vegas is not going to be easy to beat. This would be Vegas’ first time missing the playoffs since entering the league and you can bet that everyone down there in Nevada is doing what they can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What’s The Takeaway
Should the Canucks make the playoffs? and can the Canucks make the playoffs? These are two completely different questions. I’ve made my stance clear on the Canucks making a postseason appearance, and I personally am not a fan of it. However, after looking at the string of games ahead of them, it seems to me that it is more possible for the Canucks to make a playoff appearance than one might think.
There are a number of schedule reasons that make the Canucks chances favourable, and there are a number of teams they’re going to face that they have, and can beat.
It’s simply not over, the Canucks themselves don’t want it to be over, and they’re fighting for it. They say it takes 95-96pts to make the playoffs, roughly speaking. If the Canucks can walk away with the six easier wins that have been outlined above, those wins would be worth a total of 12 points, moving them up from 73 points to 85 points.
If they can win the three most important games against Vegas, then not only will those wins hold value because of who they’re defeating, but those three wins would bring them up to 91 points. If they can steal just two out of the five more difficult games, then there you have it, the Canucks have reached the standard playoff threshold. Keeping in mind that in the Western Conference anyways, the bar for entry is always a bit lower than in the Eastern Conference.
Currently, the top three teams in both the Atlantic and the Metropolitan divisions have point totals in the nineties, with the only exception being the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they are one point away at 89pts on the season. Whereas in the Western Conference, the top three teams all sit with point totals in the eighties, with the one outlier being the league-leading Avalanche with 100pts and counting.
Do the Canucks have a red carpet to the playoffs? No, not by a long shot, but it can’t yet be said that there isn’t at least still a path to the postseason for the team. The path may have terrible visibility and is slowly being consumed by the surrounding forest, but it’s there, they’ll just have to work a little harder to get through it.
Now that you know the road map, combined with their past experience, all that’s left to do is watch. Can the Canucks surprise us this year and make an appearance in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup? or are the odds just too chilly for them to overcome?