The Vancouver Canucks have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Despite beating the Seattle Kraken 5-2, they are now unable to catch any playoff team after the Dallas Stars got to overtime and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in a shootout.
While it has been a wild ride for Canuck fans, the team fell short again and has now missed the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons. Here are four reasons why.
Canucks’ Problematic Start
The easiest thing to point to as to why the Canucks missed the playoffs is their first 25 games. They started the season 8-15-2 before coach Travis Green, and general manager Jim Benning were relieved of their duties. The 25-game stretch was historically bad as the Canucks were the 28th ranked team in the league in points and had a 65.9% penalty kill which was on track to be one of the worst in NHL history. Nothing was going right, but then a jersey toss changed everything.
On Dec. 4, 2021, a fan tossed a jersey on the ice at the end of a 4-1 home loss to Pittsburgh. The fans had enough and were showing the organization their frustrations. Two days later, the Canucks fired Benning and Green while bringing in Bruce Boudreau to coach and Jim Rutherford to run the organization as president of hockey ops. While the management and coaching changes clearly had a positive effect on the team, fans must thank the person who tossed the jersey, for without it, who knows how this season would have turned out.
Too Much Line Juggling
The Canucks could not stabilize their forwards all season which meant it was difficult to gain chemistry throughout the lineup. This season, there were 70 different forward lines that played over 200 minutes together. The only Canuck trio that played over 200 minutes together was Matthew Highmore, Juho Lammikko and Tyler Motte, who squeezed in with 259.7 minutes together. Every team that had one or fewer lines over 200 minutes missed the playoffs this season.
In total, the Canucks used 13 different line combinations for 60 minutes or more during the season, with seven of those playing more than 100 minutes together. Next season, Vancouver needs to establish their offensive lines so that there is not this much change from game to game. Players need to develop chemistry, and switching their linemates constantly is not the way to build that up.
Canucks’ Slow First Periods
One major issue this season was that the Canucks would often find themselves behind after the first period. They were outscored 72-57 and trailed after the first on 26 occasions in 80 games so far this season. If they fell behind after the first 20 minutes, they struggled coming back posting a .269% win percentage when trailing after the first period.
For those that may say the statistics look bad because the whole season is lumped together, the Canucks did not do much better when they trailed after the first period under the new coaching group either. In 55 games, they trailed after 20 minutes on 15 different occasions. They were only able to come back and win four times and posted a .267% win percentage. While they did manage to lower the goal deficit by only being outscored 49-44, this is clearly an area the team needs to improve on going into next season.
Too Much Reliance on Thatcher Demko
Thatcher Demko was a brick wall for the Canucks all season, but by the end of it, he looked exhausted. Only two goaltenders in the league played more games than his 64 this season, and he is projected to finish in the top-four when it comes to shots against and saves. He also played five back-to-backs this season, posting an impressive .912% save percentage in those contests. The only reason his starts aren’t higher is that he had to miss games due to COVID midseason. The Canucks need to find a way to ease the pressure on their starting goalie next season so that he is fresh by the end of it and hopefully into the playoffs.
Going into next season, the Canucks need to utilize their backups more in order to preserve Demko for late in the season. From Mar. 1 to Apr. 26, Vancouver played in 25 games. He started 20 of those games while playing in 21 of them, including two back-to-back scenarios. Hopefully, next season, Spencer Martin can provide the 20-25 starts needed, including some late in the season, to give the Canucks’ starter some rest and avoid the dip he has experienced in the last two months.
Canucks Have Hope for the Future
The good news is there is hope for next season. Players like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller and Demko all had career years, while rookie Vasily Podkolzin showed he can play in the NHL. Let’s not forget players like Luke Schenn, Brad Hunt and Lammikko providing strong depth as well. The pieces are starting to come together, and if they can avoid a disastrous start like they did this year, Canuck fans may finally see the playoff series they were promised at the beginning of this season come to fruition.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at https://www.area51sportsnetwork.com/ where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.