Left On Read: Canucks in Back-to-Backs, Graovac’s Unlikely Path and Meaningless Games

By: Trent Leith / May 19, 2021  

When we at gear up to do a Left on Red article, we search Canucks Twitter for unanswered questions and we do our best to answer them, for those who were Left On Read, it’s as simple as that. We want to make sure every nook and cranny of the fanbase gets to engage with others in the market. When I was collecting questions for this month’s edition, most of the questions I saw were “wait the playoffs have started? What is happening in the North Division?” Or “why are the Canucks still playing?”. So let’s get that out of the way first. 

Wait, It’s Not Over Yet?

Yes, yes they have still been playing. At a glance, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Canucks and Calgary Flames to be playing three games while the Stanley Cup playoffs have already started. The thing is, with the Canucks’ extended COVID-19 break, they now have ground to make up, needing to play a total of 19 games in 32 days since returning to the ice. 

There are a few reasons why the NHL decided to still have the Canucks play these seemingly pointless games. the big one being draft position. The league wants all the teams to finish a full season for optics and fairness for the draft order. There are also things like contractual obligations to sponsors and rights holders, and even potential for players to hit bonuses, as reasons to finish the regular season. While it is awkward, clunky and just so very NHL, it’s the hand the team has been dealt and they will have to play out the string in the shadow of bigger and more meaningful games. So yes the playoffs have started and Canucks fans are still enduring the pains of the 2020-21 season. 

The Canucks Never Fail to Surprise

The Canucks are really trying to keep things interesting for their fans. While some of the best hockey we’ve seen in ages is happening parallel to some of the most meaningless, the Canucks are making sure to treat their fans with at least entertaining games, if not high skill high stakes ones.

I certainly didn’t expect a game like that on Sunday night, but I think I should have. The Canucks closed out a fantastic day of hockey with a meaningless game that was expected to lull hockey fans to sleep after a big day. The game started off looking like what we all expected was going to be the case, until the third period. At the start of the 3rd period, the Canucks were down 5-1 and by the end of the period, those pesky Canuckle-heads had scored four in a row to tie it and force over time. 

The Canucks have a knack for doing exactly what you don’t expect. For example last year the Canucks were a bubble team and ended up making the play-in round for the playoffs and then, sure enough, they go on to qualify for the playoffs, beat the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues. Which of course allowed them to come within 10 minutes of beating the Stanley Cup contenders, the Vegas Golden Knights. No one in their right mind saw that coming. This year many expected the Canucks to resign Toffoli and build on the success that they had in the bubble. Instead though, the Canucks fell so flat on their face, there’s an indent in the ground where they landed. 

It seems like every year as soon as the Canucks are officially out of contention for the playoffs, they go on a long winning streak seemingly ruining their draft lottery chances. So it wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility that they were actually going to take at least one point out of Sunday night’s game and fall from 4th to 6th place in draft lottery odds. So no, no one saw this coming, but we absolutely should have seen some sort of tragic point collecting in the forecast for the Vancouver Canucks. 

How Do You Do, Fellow Kids

Yes, you can and there is some precedence for it. In fact, according to The Hockey News, there has been a total of 86 players to have made their first appearance at or after age 28, and 13 of them would go on to play over 100 games. 

Tyler Graovac is far from an NHL regular at age 28, but he is generating some consideration from fans as a fourth or fifth centre for next year. He has four points (3g,1a) in 13 games and is having quite the audition for the Canucks’ bottom six, and out scoring the competition for a spot in the lineup.

A name that might be painfully familiar to the Vancouver market is among the few that have had impactful NHL careers having started them after their 28th birthday. Tim Thomas won two Vezina’s, a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup. He would play 426 games in the NHL with a .920 sv% over that time. 

Another player making a late debut is Derek Ryan who made his debut for the Carolina Hurricanes and is currently playing for the Calgary Flames. While Ryan doesn’t have the same hardware as Tim Thomas he is an active player in the league with over 340 games under his belt and over 140 points. He has carved out a half-decent career for himself despite being so late to the party.

Graovac has played 82 games in the NHL starting as early as 2014-15. He even played 52 games for the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17. So he isn’t really starting his career at 28, but I get your point, Duncan, he’s “old”. 

Back-To-Back Breakdown

I hope you don’t mind, I snag this one Drance, but I looked into it, and the Canucks have played 40 times in back-to-back scenarios with a record of 12-25-3 in the second half of those scenarios. That is only good for a 0.338 points percentage when playing two days in a row. That puts the Canucks firmly in 30th place as far as points percentage in that stretch only ahead of the Ottawa Senators. The Canucks have also played only the 4th fewest back-to-back sets since 2017-18, which surprised me with how unfavorable the Canucks’ schedule seems to be at times. 

Strangely enough, the majority of teams in the NHL are .500 or above in the second legs of back-to-backs with 21 teams, with an even, or better record. Why? I am not sure, but if I had to garner a guess, it’s because of careful goalie deployment and pouncing early on teams expecting their opponents to be tired and then holding a lead. As far as the Covid outbreak being a reason to blame for the poor record of back-to-backs, it may play a role, but isn’t the sole reason. 

The Canucks have lost four of four in the back-half of back-to-back games since their return from the outbreak, but it isn’t like they had a shining record prior to that. In fact, prior to the Canucks shutdown this season, they were still 30th in the league with a 0.361 points percentage since Green took over. But is this Green’s fault entirely? I don’t think so. In the 4 years before Green took over as bench boss, the Canucks were only slightly better at 28th in the league with a .412 points percentage. It appears as though this just isn’t a strength of the Canucks, in the last decade, including the two Presidents’ Trophy winning seasons, they are 22nd in the league in this category. 

You Must Be New in Town

Ian, it’ll never end. It has never ended. Sometimes they appear like the suffering will end, but they are just buttering you up, just to knock you down. This question is in reference to Elliotte Friedman’s report Tuesday evening saying that despite rumors of Geoff Courtnall, or even the Sedin Twins joining the front office of the Canucks, that Jim Benning has been told he will be returning for next season. 

Many fans are left to pick their jaws up off the floor and watch the Jim Benning return, while watching their head coach and world class goaltending coach leave without new contracts. The frustration comes due to Benning’s inability to improve this team, despite the incredibly long runway he has been afforded, while Green had the coaching performance of a lifetime last postseason, and players singing Ian Clark’s praises and literally begging management to bring him back next season. So if I may offer you some advice, Ian, buckle up, something tells me the team hasn’t even bottomed out yet. 

That’ll just about do it for this segment of Left On Read, and for the Canucks season with just one more game to go. It’s a tough time to be a Canucks fan, and when the Canuck ownership group doesn’t seem to hear you out there on twitter, just remember, we do. hears you, we feel your pain, and we are searching for a shoulder to cry on alongside you.