Brayden Fengler / October 16, 2021
The season has started and we’ve all got our first taste of what the fresh and new 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks are going to look like. With every new season comes time to make some hot, and some not-so-hot takes. As StadiumChinatown.ca enters our second season of Canucks coverage, we think it’s high time to get our predictions for this season in writing.
In our second collaborative piece, both Trent and Brayden are here to drop five takes for this 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks season.
Feelings on the OEL/Garland Trade will Soften
– Trent –
When the news broke that the Canucks traded for OEL, many were quick to jump on the trade as either a huge win or a huge loss, as is the case with everything on Canucks Twitter. People were fast to criticize, even us! But after seeing both OEL and Conor Garland play, I think criticism of the trade has already started to taper out.
I’m not saying that we will all rejoice at the incredible trade Jet Black Jim pulled off, I’m not saying OEL will become the greatest defensemen in franchise history or that Garland will win the Hart, but I think as time goes on, more people will look at the trade as a win.
At the time of the trade, it was looked at as a “short term gain, for long term pain” situation. Sure the Canucks moved on from three bad contracts, but they brought on an expensive one that runs through 2026-27. It’s a massive risk, especially if OEL doesn’t at least get closer to the elite player he once was.
After seeing a training camp and a couple of games featuring the two new additions, I think it’s safe to say, they make the team better. Better enough to justify their price point? That remains to be seen, but better nonetheless. OEL has looked good, like a confident puck-moving defender that maybe just needed a change of scenery after all. Garland has looked like an agile bowling ball on the ice, his low centre of gravity and his fantastic edgework makes him hard to play against and take the puck from. As Canucks fans see more games from both of these players, they will become less hung up on the length and cost of OEL’s deal, and the 1st rounder that was sent out to make it all happen.
We Won’t See Podkolzin “Live Up To Expectations” Until Next Season.
– Brayden –
Despite scoring his first NHL on Friday night against the Flyers, I don’t think that we’ll be seeing the Vasily Podkolzin this year that we all initially thought we would see, at least not until next season. With the expectation of injuries pushing Podkolzin higher in the lineup and subsequently increasing his minutes, I don’t believe we will see the new Russian rookie crack any sort of consistent top-six role, or earn himself the minutes that would typically come with top 9 deployment.
The hype around Podkolzin has softened considerably compared to where it was pre-training camp. It was highly speculated, perhaps unfairly, that because of Podkolzin’s time in the KHL (as short as it was, 68 combined games over three years.) that he would easily slot into this team’s top-six and if not then he would unquestionably be a top 9 player. After training camp and preseason though, this does not seem to be the case, at least not “unquestionably”, that much is for sure.
Podkolzin is by no means doomed to fail in North American hockey. As an individual, he is fully committed to making Vancouver his new home. He’s brought his wife over from Russia, he’s made a considerable effort to strengthen his English speaking. Those are not moves a player makes off the ice if his heart isn’t fully in it on the ice. Podkolzin’s heart is clearly in this, he just looks to need more time to be comfortable out on an NHL rink. Because right now, a lot of the time he doesn’t look comfortable making decisions on North American ice.
There is a chance that Podkolzin may reach his potential sooner than next season, but for the sake of making predictions, I would say that it’s going to take Podkolzin at least until some point early to mid next season, for him to reach his initially anticipated NHL form. Yes, he’s played in the KHL, and yes that is a men’s league, but he’s only dressed for 68 combined games over the last three years. It was wishful thinking on our parts that Podz would be ready. it looks like Podkolzin just needs a little more time in the oven. Give the kid 10-13min a night, get him touches game after game and he won’t be far off from what we all hope he can be.
Rathbone will Join Boeser as a Player Always in Trade Rumours.
– Trent –
It happens every year around the trade deadline, and then again in the summer, Brock Boeser is front and centre of trade rumours and speculation. It usually only comes from someone saying something like “Hearing Jim Benning is getting calls on Boeser”, and as the market does, it sets itself on fire with panic.
Usually, these rumours are nothing more than GMs kicking tires, and not so much the Canucks looking to move one of their most talented scorers. For some reason, every year Canucks fans go back to the same well, and panic about it. Well, folks, it’s time to double down, Jack Rathbone will be the next to fall into the “forever about to be traded” club.
With Jack Rathbone being a “Quinn Hughes Lite” as far as potential goes, it’s a safe bet that when the team is looking to fill a hole, they are going to look in the “defensive defenceman” column and see a shortage. Then of course when they look in the “offensive defenceman” column there will be an excess.
Oliver Ekman-Larson and Tyler Myers fit into the “offensive” pile, but the issue with their trade value is their age and the contract length/term. Those contracts in a vacuum don’t hold a lot of trade value due to their risk. The Canucks are absolutely not going to trade their prized Quinn Hughes and that leaves Rathbone in the offensive pile, as a cost-controlled, young defender with high upside. If Rathbone has a good year, he could reap a bounty.
I’m not saying the Canucks should or will trade him, but I will tell you to buckle up for a stressful trade deadline if you get easily stressed by trade rumours.
Hughes Will Have His Best Year Yet.
– Brayden –
Hughes’ defence was lacking last season, this is a settled debate by this point. Quinn made a point in last season’s year-end media availability to state that he would be working on improving his defensive game over the summer. There is a good chance that Quinn, with his new contract, will be eager to demonstrate his improvement this season.
What makes Hughes exciting is his aggressive offensive ability, that he can turn on like a light switch at the blueline. Although as a defenceman, the “defence” part is also pretty key. Believe it or not, Quinn Hughes has never finished a season with a positive plus-minus stat. Plus-minus is not the most sophisticated statistic for measuring defencemen, but it’s kind of like levelling a picture frame, a little up, a little down, it isn’t worth paying attention to at that point, however, if that picture frame is tilted down 24 degrees, that’s probably going to turn some heads, and might mean there is some work to be done.
Quinn Hughes finished last season with a -24 plus-minus and the season before that with -10. It’s been a bit concerning that a defenceman whose main selling feature is his ability to put the puck in the net for his team, is also allowing a lot of pucks to enter his own net while he’s on the ice. While with the Canucks, his corsi has always remained above 50% though, including last year when he finished the season at 57%. However, if Quinn can, as he’s made strides to, tidy up his defensive game, then there is no reason why that percentage can‘t be higher.
Quinn had a few defensive hiccups in pre-season games, but you can tell that he’s making an effort to make sure each mistake happens less and less. We saw him take the defensive initiative against McDavid in the last Oilers game, angling out 97 to essentially remove him from the play and allowing Hughes’ teammates to move the puck.
I believe moments like this will be the norm for Hughes this season. If he can keep his offensive intensity up, along with improving his defensive positioning, this could be Hughes’ best season yet.
The Canucks Will Make the Playoffs… Or Else
Brayden already went ahead and put pen to paper on this one so to speak, so this prediction is a bit of a double up. The Canucks are in a famously bad Pacific Division, the only bonafide playoff lock is the Vegas Golden Knights. The only lock to miss is the Anaheim Ducks, the other 6 teams are going to step all over each other to try and get one of the playoff spots up for grabs. If the Canucks truly did have a down year last year and are a more competitive team like that of the 2019-20 season’s team, they should have no problem landing a playoff berth. Both of us at StadiumChinatown.ca are predicting that the Canucks make the playoffs. They have to because if they don’t, neither GM Jim Benning nor head coach Travis Green will be back to start the 2022-23 season.
The Canucks are far from a Cup contender, but as Montreal reminded the hockey world last year, all you have to do is get in. That’s not a responsible way to run a team, but as a fan at home, it’s nice to know. The Canucks should land a playoff spot, anything less is an awful look for the franchise.
If the Canucks find themselves watching from the sidelines again, big changes will come. GMJB and Green will be let go. Both have two years remaining on their contracts, this season and next. We saw what a coach will do to try and audition for a new contract down the stretch, based on how Green played the team last season. If they don’t have a new deal, a coach will try to grind out W’s in a futile attempt to win vs. make lineup choices to better grow the team and the young players. Similar goes for a GM, they will sell futures to try and save their job in the moment.
If the Canucks miss the postseason, it would be irresponsible to bring back a coach and a GM on expiring deals when a shake-up would be clearly needed anyways. If they miss the playoffs, both will be gone and the coaching staff and front office will be built from the ground up. Or at the very least, this is what should happen in the event of Canucks failure. But we say that you don’t have to worry about that, because this team is playoff-bound baby.