Canucks News & Rumors: Markstrom, Virtanen, Horvat & More

In this edition of Vancouver Canucks News & Rumors, I’ll report the latest news about Jacob Markstrom’s contract status for next season. I’ll share some thoughts from J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat about the team’s postseason play. Finally, I’ll share rumors that Jake Virtanen might be in trouble with the team.

Item One: Jacob Markstrom Might Have Been Stronger in the Exhibition Game

Jacob Markstrom gave up three goals on 30 shots in his team’s 4-1 loss in Wednesday’s exhibition game to the Winnipeg Jets. Both coaches chose to play their starting goalies the entire game; although the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck had a strong game, Markstrom didn’t respond. He seemed shaky and lacking in confidence.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid Vancouver Canucks Jacob Markstrom
Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid fails to get a shot past Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Obviously, it was an exhibition game; however, the Canucks need their Swedish goalie and the team’s MVP to have a strong qualifying best-of-five series against the Minnesota Wild. Markstrom recently won the Cyclone Taylor Trophy, given to the team’s MVP as voted by the fans. He deserved it because he had a strong season despite personal issues emerging from his father’s death. His totals included a 23-16-4 regular-season record with a goals against average of 2.75 and a .918 save percentage.

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During the first intermission of the Canucks and Jets game, Sportnet’s David Amber spoke with Canucks general manager Jim Benning about Markstrom’s contract status. Benning noted that how Markstrom plays during the postseason won’t carry weight when it comes to negotiations and suggested the team will “get it figured out.”

Benning further noted, “We both decided ‘let’s just wait until after the playoffs are done.’ … We want to keep him on the team. He’s been a good goalie for us here these last couple years and a big part of our team.”

Item Two: Antoine Roussel Looks Healthy and Scored in Wednesday’s Exhibition Loss

Although the Canucks lost to the Jets, it’s good to have Antoine Roussel back and healthy. After some great work by Adam Gaudette along the boards to free the puck and put it on net, Roussel smashed home the team’s only goal against Hellebuyck.

Antoine Roussel Vancouver Canucks
Antoine Roussel, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Roussel missed the first three months of the 2019-20 season with a knee injury. The veteran forward plays a “motivated” game anyway, but he’s likely to want to show that his injuries are in the past. He brings a feistiness to the Canucks’ lineup the team needs against the Wild.

Item Three: Is It Between Jake Virtanen and Micheal Ferland?

When it comes to physical forwards Micheal Ferland and Jake Virtanen, is there only room for one in the Canucks’ lineup? Or is it exactly as general manager Benning reported during the game when he was asked why Virtanen wasn’t in the game Wednesday night?

Micheal Ferland Vancouver Canucks
Micheal Ferland, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Benning’s response what that it was as simple as the team seeking to get a better look at Ferland. In fact, Benning told fans not to read too much into the fact that Ferland was in and Virtanen was out. He even noted that Virtanen had been having a good camp, so there was no mystery about deciding to keep him off the ice. Many fans wondered if Virtanan might be in hot water with the team because he posted a mask-less photo of himself not social distancing.

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Canucks fans must feel good to see Ferland play. He missed most of the 2019-20 season with concussion symptoms; however, he looks ready for third-line action. During the exhibition game, he skated with Gaudette and Roussel and even saw time on the second-unit power play. He could be a great postseason addition to the lineup.

Item Four: J.T. Miller Says the Canucks Are Confident

According to first-year Canucks player J.T. Miller, the team is confident heading into the play-in series against the Wild. He noted that there were “a lot of new faces, the young guys being a year older helps, and outstanding goaltending … I don’t see why we shouldn’t have been a confident team in here from Day 1.”

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Miller added, “We should have swag in this room about our game. We know when we’re working hard and competing we can play with the best teams in the league.” (from “‘We should have swag in this room’: Why underdog label doesn’t concern Canucks,” Harman Dayal, The Athletic, 27/07/20).

Item Five: How Excited is Bo Horvat to Begin the Play-In Series?

Fans shouldn’t think that NHL players aren’t sacrificing to enter the bubble to resume the 2019-20 season. Canucks captain Bo Horvat must be ambivalent about playing. On one hand, he’s excited to start postseason play and on the other he’s sad about having to leave his wife and new-born son back in London, Ontario. Obviously, he’ll miss his family. 

Bo Horvat Vancouver Canucks
Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As Horvat emphasized simply, “Let’s get this thing going.” Horvat scored 22 goals and 31 assists (53 points) in 69 games before the pause. Not only is he the captain, but he’s one of the top forwards on the roster. (from “Patrick Johnston: Canucks captain Bo Horvat is antsy for bubble time, playoff action, The Province, 26/07/20)

What’s Next for the Canucks?

So, was general manager Benning telling the truth? This morning, rumors emerged that Virtanen’s status with the team is in jeopardy. The Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre reported that even Loui Eriksson seems to have passed the 23-year- old Virtanen on the team’s depth charts.

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MacIntyre reports head coach Travis Green as saying, “I just went with the lineup that I thought gave us the best chance to win. Plain and simple.”

My response? Hmmm.