It has been a long nine days since the Vancouver Canucks last played a hockey game. It feels more like months instead of days since immersing our lives in the storylines and drama that our beloved sports team brings to our daily lives. However, with the news of a player from the Ottawa Senators showing symptoms for the COVID-19 virus, it might be time to accept the reality that the NHL might not be resuming play for an extended period of time or at all – worst-case scenario.
If the NHL were to abort the rest of the games (or just the regular-season games), the Canucks would have more than a few storylines cut short.
Hughes’ Historic Run
One storyline that Canucks fans have been spoiled with over the past three years has been the Calder Trophy race. First, it was Brock Boeser narrowly losing to Matthew Barzal followed by Elias Pettersson fending off the late-season surge from Jordan Binnington. This year Quinn Hughes seems to have the edge with 53 points over fellow defenceman Cale Makar’s 50 points. Eerily enough, if the regular season were not to return, Hughes would have ended his rookie campaign with 68 games which is the same amount as Pettersson one year prior and only six more than Boeser one year before that.
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Makar had missed a number of games bringing his total to 57. Nevertheless, he and Hughes were still close in terms of offensive production. The Colorado Avalanche defenceman had just returned from an extended injury and immediately collected three assists – narrowing Hughes’ point lead to a measly three points.
Regardless of the 13 games Makar missed, the race would have intensified over the final 13 games which would have included a head-to-head matchup in March fittingly on Friday the 13th.
Spooky right? Instead, now we have a worldwide pandemic giving us our weekly scares.
Not a good trade-off.
Even if Hughes ended up losing the Calder race to Makar, he would have had a top-10 campaign for first-year defencemen. His 0.78 points per game put him on pace to score around 63 points which would have ranked him seventh – ahead of legends such as Nick Lidstrom and Dennis Potvin.
Further, he would have effortlessly surpassed Dale Tallon’s club record of 56 points for a rookie defenceman set in Vancouver’s inaugural season and possibly challenged Doug Lidster’s club record of 63 points for a defenceman in the 1986-87 season.
Looks like he’ll have to settle for being the second-highest scoring rookie defenceman in the last 30 years, behind Lidstrom, and enjoy some lucrative incoming performance bonuses instead. Poor guy.
Several Canucks were set to surpass their personal best scoring records including top-two point producers, J.T. Miller and Pettersson. The race for the scoring lead was an intriguing topic since it was almost assumed that Pettersson would lead the team in scoring for more than half the year.
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However, the pleasantly surprising Miller holds a substantial six-point lead over the second year Swede with the season in limbo. The two offensive juggernauts are currently tied with 27 goals scored which would have created another fierce competition heading down the stretch.
Relatively speaking, Miller’s efforts could have been one of the franchise’s all-time best. His 1.04 points per game put him on a pace to score roughly 85 points. Although over his last 20 games, his points per game was 1.3, suggesting an even higher potential. If Miller was able to continue his torrid pace for the remaining games, a 90-point season was within the realm of possibilities.
Only seven players have ever scored 90 or more points for Vancouver and it could have been the highest scoring total since the season Daniel Sedin secured the Art Ross Trophy nearly a decade ago.
Players such as Adam Gaudette, Zack MacEwan, Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen had all surpassed their previous personal best totals earlier in the season and looked to build on that total.
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Virtanen seemed poised to reach the 20-goal and 40-point mark for the first time while Gaudette and MacEwan would have continued to cement themselves as legitimate NHL players for the first time over a full season.
Perhaps their looming potential contract extensions due this offseason were providing them with a little extra motivation. Not to mention Tyler Toffoli’s play since being traded has bumped his stock up for when he hits free agency this summer too.
The missing games were not likely to toggle the contract numbers too drastically. However, it would have been welcoming to see the players hit their peak season production this year when looking back on their careers.
The Return of Markstrom or More Demko
It had been well documented that Jacob Markstrom had been the team’s most valuable player throughout the majority of the season. Since losing the Swedish netminder to injury, the Canucks fell out of a playoff spot – losing five of eight games.
The team desperately needed him back and recent news seemed to indicate that a return was on the horizon.
Would Markstrom return to the Vezina-calibre form he was at before the injury? Would his performance alone be enough for the Canucks to make the playoffs? If the answer to either of these was yes, Markstrom might as well call up Floyd Mayweather because it’s about to be money time in Vancouver. Money Markstrom could command more than $5-6 million in free agency and the Canucks are currently close to the salary cap ceiling. Especially given that the cap will be towards the minimum of expected increase with the potential loss of revenue during the COVID-19 suspension.
The next month of hockey would’ve been a great time for Thatcher Demko to prove his capabilities as a legitimate NHL starter.
Demko did not get off to the start he anticipated as a starter, losing lousy games against Ottawa, Toronto, and Arizona. Collectively, his save percentage was .904 and he allowed approximately three more goals than the expected amount.
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However, in the three games since, Demko had a .912 save percentage and allowed fewer goals against than the expected amount. The pinnacle of Demko’s season came in a 45-save win over the New York Islanders where he denied all three skaters in the shootout.
Was Demko turning a corner and proving himself to be capable of handling most of the games next year?
It will be too late to know now as Markstrom will likely be fully healthy if the games resume again. (from ‘If NHL pushes play after pause, Canucks would have a healthier lineup,’ The Province, 03/14/2020)
It is impossible to predict what would have actually occurred over the final month of the season. Would the Canucks make the playoffs? Will anybody in management lose their jobs? Likely some of the players playing would have played their last game as a Canuck. It’s fun to imagine the possibilities while we impatiently wait for the return of hockey.