The Vancouver Canucks have had a rollercoaster of a 2021-22 season so far, to put it mildly. Honestly, it’s been a tale of two seasons. Pre-Bruce Boudreau, they were 8-15-2. Since he took over the head coaching duties from Travis Green in December, they are 10-4-2. They have also made it back into the playoff conversation. As of this writing, they sit four points out of a wildcard spot and eight points out of third in the Pacific Division.
Like all teams, the Canucks have dealt with players being added to the COVID protocol list and long layoffs due to games being postponed. Considering all the adversity they have been under, the team has fared quite well against some of the best teams in the NHL. With a depleted lineup that was devoid of Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Conor Garland and Thatcher Demko, they managed to outplay the Florida Panthers and St. Louis Blues, which is quite a feat with the lineup they were forced to ice.
So, before the Canucks hit their 42nd game of the season on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, let’s give out a few midseason awards, shall we?
Pavel Bure Award (Best Forward)
All Miller has done since joining the Canucks is put up points. He has only been in Vancouver for less than three seasons and he’s 16 points away from surpassing the point total from his entire six-season stint with the New York Rangers. In 161 games with the Canucks, he has 54 goals and 157 points. In 341 games with the Rangers, he had 72 goals and 172 points.
In 2021-22, Miller once again leads the Canucks in scoring with 12 goals and 39 points in 39 games. If he comes back strong from his bout of COVID, he could potentially match or shatter the career-high he set during his first season with the team back in 2019-20. Unfortunately, if you believe the rumors out there, his brilliance might not be around much longer as he is rumored to be on the move in the coming months.
The return for Miller promises to be substantial as his production and leadership this season has been off the charts. If he is indeed traded, the Canucks better get at least a first-round pick, bluechip prospect and may be even a young roster player for him. His value should be at an all-time high and if they decide to actually put him on the market, interim general manager (GM) Jim Rutherford better make the right decision when he pulls the trigger.
Alex Edler Award (Best Defenceman)
This award goes to Quinn Hughes by a landslide of votes. If this was a race, he would be lapping all his opponents by now. That’s how good he has been this season, and that’s how far he’s ahead of any other defenceman on the Canucks. Oliver Ekman-Larsson can probably claim second place, but there’s a huge gap between first and second, let me tell you.
If not for Hughes, the Canucks would have trouble moving the puck up the ice every single shift. Unlike Elias Pettersson right now, he is definitely living up to the large contract he signed in the offseason. With 32 points in 40 games, he is tied for eighth in defence scoring with John Carlson and Tony DeAngelo and for the first time in his career, he’s on the plus side of the plus/minus ledger. From last season’s minus-24, he’s improved to a plus-11, which translates to a very impressive differential of plus-35.
In a just world, Hughes would have his name etched on the Norris Trophy at the end of the season. As it is, he doesn’t get a lot of recognition for what he does in the later hours on the West Coast. Hopefully some voters are staying up to see this guy in action, because he’s more than worth the price of admission.
Sedin Twins Award (Team MVP)
You could easily give this one to Hughes or Miller as well, but when you look at how many times Demko has bailed out his team this season, there’s little doubt it should go to him. He was arguably the best goaltender in the entire NHL during the month of December closing it out with a 7-1 record, 1.72 goals-against average (GAA) and a sparkling .946 save percentage (SV%). He, along with Boudreau’s new system, helped the Canucks force their way back into the playoff race and become legitimate in the league again.
Now 26 years old, Demko is firmly in his prime as an NHL goaltender. He is the de facto starter for the Canucks and will be for the foreseeable future. His numbers don’t scream Vezina Trophy at 2.62 GAA and .917 SV%, but he definitely falls into the realm of an elite goaltender. If not for him, the Canucks would not be in the position they are in today.
Thomas Vanek Award (Most Impressive Newcomer)
Of all the newcomers this season, Garland has been by far the most impressive. Now an integral part of the Canucks’ core group, the 5-foot-7 dynamo has quickly become a fan favourite in Vancouver and will be for at least the next five seasons. Before COVID claimed him for the protocol list, he was third on the team in scoring with 10 goals and 24 points behind only Hughes and Miller. If all goes right with his recovery, he should be able to hit 20 goals for the second time in his career before the season comes to an end in April.
Garland has only played 37 games and he already has multiple memorable moments in a Canucks uniform. From the death stare with a Seattle Kraken fan to the many times he has gotten under the skin of his opponents (looking at you Filip Zadina, Travis Konecny and Vladislav Gavrikov), he has definitely made himself known to his new team and its fans. Suffice it to say, his addition has meant the world to the Canucks so far.
Loui Eriksson Award (Most Disappointing Newcomer)
When Jason Dickinson was acquired in the offseason from the Dallas Stars for a third-round pick, a lot of people thought it was a good trade. He was supposed to shore up the third line and provide some extra offence in the bottom six. So far, that hasn’t happened as he’s struggled to find consistency on any of the lines he has been placed on.
On the bright side, Dickinson has looked a lot better since Boudreau took over. Before Horvat was added to the COVID protocol list he was playing a regular shift on his line and appeared to be settling into a shutdown role. If the puck starts bouncing the right way for him and goaltenders stop making ridiculous saves on his chances, then may be he will shed the disappointing label by the end of the season.
Canucks Need To Fix the Penalty Kill To Have a Chance at the Playoffs
With all the home games to come in February, the Canucks have a chance to make some hay and close the gap on some of the teams that are in front of them. If they can shore up their special teams and make them a strength instead of a weakness, then maybe, just may be they can sneak into a wild card spot. Though, that will be easier said than done considering their struggles so far.
Despite the penalty kill’s overall improvement under Boudreau and Scott Walker, they still sit dead-last in the NHL at an abysmal 67 percent. They have looked better at times, but still bleed goals at an alarming rate. Since an impressive run that saw them kill ten straight between Dec. 12-Jan. 1, they have allowed at least one power play goal in six straight games going back to Jan. 11 against the Florida Panthers. If not for the stellar 5-on-5 play that ranks them at the top of the NHL, they would likely be treading water with the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes.
If Demko, Hughes, Miller, Horvat and Garland continue their impressive seasons and Pettersson manages to rediscover his elite form, the Canucks will have a chance at making the playoffs. Though, if they don’t fix their special teams, the hill will be that much steeper to climb.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.