The Pacific Division is probably the weakest in some time.
Outside of the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, there’s reason to believe that any of the division’s five remaining teams could compete for third place or a wild card center — well, with the exception of the San Jose Sharks, who are currently in a no-man’s land with an aging core, a potential tier pipeline undergrowth, and one of the ugliest head-friendly pages in the NHL.
Down I5, the Seattle Kraken had an exciting summer, starting with the prospect of Shane Wright hitting their lap in fourth overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. A few weeks later, Kraken acquired Oliver Bjorkstrand in a landfill of Columbus Blue Jackets.
Besides those inversions, the situation was relatively calm for the squid. Perhaps the addition of Matty Benners and Shane Wright will push the needle forward. Or is newly appointed goalkeeping coach Steve Breer making enough of a difference in defense? However, the odds are that Seattle will sit in the playoffs this year as it continues to build with an eye on the future.
The Anaheim Ducks raised some eyebrows this season when they spent a lot to get one year off John Klingberg. Klingberg will likely be one of the ultimate trading assets for ducks to acquire more futures contracts for their current rebuild. If the defense put in a better effort than they’ve managed over the past four seasons, the ducks might be sleeping along the same lines as the 2021-22 Los Angeles Kings, but something tells me that Pat Verbeek knows what he has in this lineup and will sell under any circumstances.
Speaking of the Kings, they made it clear to the league how important a potentially well-built pipeline is to the team. After the injuries of Mickey Anderson, Ole Mata, Matt Roy, Sean Walker and Drew Dottie, no one expected the Kings to hold their place in the playoffs. But, the Kings relied on a laundry list of U24 defending men from Ontario Reign who had all shown a promise in immediate service to the club.
Despite the question marks in the grid, the Kings’ addition of Kevin Fiala to their advanced advanced group could see them rival the Canucks head-on for third place.
Vegas is a wild card complete with its own question marks in the target. Will Logan Thompson be good enough to be a full-time starter? The tandem of Thompson and Adin Hill does not entirely inspire confidence for a team with high expectations in the supplement.
The Golden Knights are getting older, and management is struggling to bring in the same quality players they keep getting rid of for free. The quality of the remaining core is still enough to make them one of Vancouver’s direct competitors in a playoff, but it could be a much closer fight this year than in past seasons.
With all the sections’ uncertainty in mind, let’s take a look at five things that absolutely must happen for a legitimate Canucks playoff batch.
Spencer Martin needs to be as close to his level in 2021-2022 as possible
Before we dive into the numbers, let me be clear: Spencer Martin seizing the AHL starter job and putting up outrageous NHL numbers at the age of 26 to earn his first single contract in the NHL is an incredible story. One of the few good stories to come out of Canucks’ disappointing 2021-22 campaign.
However, with $1.5 million on the books to buy Braden Holtby, the uncertainty surrounding Michael DiPetro, and Colin D’Elia’s unsurprising numbers, Arturs Silovs is still far from an NHL role; Spencer Martin needs to replicate the 2021-2022 model or get as close to it as possible as the Canucks backup.
The problem is that Martin’s goals against average and savings percentage from last year were incredibly high career standards. Martin’s 2021–22 National Hockey League numbers leapt his career bests in both the NHL and AHL.
For better or worse, Martin set an incredibly high standard of expectations with his Demko-like performance last season. His stats and win rate were the best of his entire career. There’s a good chance Martin won’t repeat his successes in 2021–22, and who can blame him? Vancouver’s savings percentage was 2.9% better than his peak AHL career!
Fortunately, Martin should be better than Jaroslav Hallack and Braden Holtby before him. It is a low bar.
However, the track record is not on Martin’s side as it was on Holtby or you are. Therefore, the closer Martin gets to his form last year, the better the chances of Team Canucks qualifying for the playoffs.
Brock Boeser’s shot ratio should improve
Look, we all know Brock was going through a massive amount of hardship off the ice last season. This point is neither a criticism of Boeser’s season nor a point of concern about his play forward. No, Brock will be better than he was last season. This point should be seen as a ray of positivity as there is no chance of a repeat of his snowboard shooting percentage from last season.
Last year, of the strikers who played over 500 minutes in 5v5, Bowser had the lowest 55 shooting percentage on the ice at 5v5. The only attackers in the Canucks with worse shooting ratios were Jason Dickinson and Nils Höglander at 5.79 % and 5.85%, respectively.
Falling back toward his career average would be a huge boon toward the team’s 5v5 goal-scoring rates.
Elias Peterson needs to be what he was in the back half of last season
The first half of Elias Peterson’s 2021–22 campaign was tough. Really harsh, almost like “purge of memory banks”.
Peterson seemed like a shell of his former self throughout the first half of the season. His firing rate crashed, his wand was breaking on every timer, and absolutely nothing seemed to be going well for him.
After overcoming a nagging wrist injury along with a change in training that increased the penalty kick responsibility, Peterson’s production swelled through the back half. Most impressive was Peterson’s ability to nearly triple his production rate while adding consistent minutes of penalty kicks to his arsenal. Pettersson finished with the highest snowboard short-save among attackers with over 25 minutes cumulative kill time!
Peterson’s late production rate is still better than ever that puts him in second place in the team’s overall scoring. If Pettersson can repeat that late stretch over the course of an entire season, and JT Miller repeats his production rate, the Canucks could have two players pushing for 90 points or more. A feat not accomplished by the Canucks since Sedins did in 2010-11.
The death penalty should be average or better
Speaking of the death penalty! The Vancouver Canucks’ murder penalty has to be above average, something they haven’t accomplished since the 2018-19 season.
The daunting task of overturning the Canucks’ struggling special teams rests on the board of newly promoted Trent Cull, who takes over the defense and strikes a penalty kick for departing Brad Shaw. Cull is said to be a solid tactics coach who takes great advantage of his players. We saw this in action with breakout seasons for players like Sheldon Dries, Sheldon Ribal and John Stevens at Abbotsford last season.
While Cull’s record as a killing coach leaves much to be desired, the fact that the organization brought in Cull to replace famed “defensive mentor” Brad Shaw speaks to the organization’s belief in his ability to help fix a faltering penalty kick in Vancouver.
It would be really horrific if the Canucks’ death sentence was executed as badly as it did under Travis Green and Nolan Baumgartner to start last season. The team has a lot of talented youngsters in their squad eager to contribute to its reduced play. Bruce Boudreaux credited Peterson, Hughes, and, briefly, even Bowser, changing the function and form of the Canucks penalty for the better. Should Cull continue that approach and involve more youngsters, such as Will Lockwood, Vasily Podkolzin or even Nils Höglander, the Canucks could see a reduced team that is much improved in the short and long term.
Blueline (unlike Quinn Hughes) needs to start scoring more goals
Last year, Queen Hughes broke team records with eight goals and sixty assists in seventy-six games. He broke the Canucks all-time record for points in a season by a defensive man and nearly became the first Canucks defender to produce at a point-per-game rate.
this is good!
The Canucks tied with the Buffalo Sabers with the fifth fewest goals scored by defenders with twenty-eight goals. Of the teams in the last ten defenders, four made it to the playoffs, and all were eliminated in the first round.
This is bad!
There is nothing wrong with the Canucks leaning heavily on Hughes for his production for the club. However, to be a playoff contender, the Canucks need more than one defensive player who can press for double-digit goals. Alex Edler was the last defender to score a number of goals by scoring ten goals in the 2018-2019 season. Before that? Yannick Webber, with 11 goals in 2014-15.
Perhaps Jack Rathbone is entrenching himself in a training camp, and the team uses his one-off timer in the All Crimes pair along with Hughes. Or that the team manages its Ekman-Larsson lecturer better, producing nearly forty points as it did not do four years ago.
Tucker Pullman has three points in his last 79 games. Kyle Burroughs has six points on his last 47, Travis Dermott has seven points on his last 60, and Danny de Keyzer, recently signed to training camp, was two points short of matching Myers’ production average over last year. No one should expect Bluelin Canucks to turn into avalanches overnight. But the Canucks need to find a way to make their blueline start contributing to the commission.
Not everything is bound to rock right in the Canucks this season. They are, after all, the Vancouver Canucks. However, if at least a few of these things happen, fans should feel a little better about their team’s playoff aspirations.