It’s a difficult part of the season for the Vancouver Canucks, one way or another. The team has all but been eliminated from the playoffs, yet they went into Dallas and Chicago took two overtime wins from the Stars (in a shootout) and the Blackhawks (when Bo Horvat scored 16 seconds into overtime).
Most fans might suggest that it’s a time when the Canucks should be losing, but this is a team that seems to win when it should be losing and loses when it should be winning. There is a slight chance the Canucks could actually make the playoffs; they are not yet eliminated. But, the odds are slim.
The team is six points behind the Arizona Coyotes for a playoff spot with nine games remaining. For the Canucks (who have a record of 31-32-10) to have any chance of being in the playoffs, they have to win almost every game in their seven-game homestand that starts Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators. And, of course, the teams they are chasing must lose.
We will see how this playoff race goes, but until then
Item One: General Manager Jim Benning’s Future
Rumours seem to always be present about Jim Benning’s job security. However, Darren Dreger says any rumours around Benning’s job are sketchy at best. Certainly, there are rumours, but they are not coming from legitimate sources.
Dreger agrees that speculation exists about the future of Benning as general manager, but warns Canuck fans who might be calling for Benning’s firing that the list of good general managerial candidates is slim. He points to the Edmonton Oilers’ list and wonders, if not Benning, then whom? Dreger thinks it highly unlikely there will be a change in Vancouver this season.
For the Canucks, this season marks four straight without being in the playoffs, the longest stretch in Canucks history. If things go very poorly during the last 10 games, then Benning’s job might be at risk. As well, the current Canucks general manager is in the final year of his contract, and it’s also been quiet about extending that contract. There has been recent turnover in Vancouver, with Trevor Linden leaving, so more turnover wouldn’t be surprising.
Dreger notes that the Canucks are on the right path. The team has three terrific young forwards, a high draft pick coming and a strong foundation. However, like Canucks fans, he believes it’s time to turn the corner and move from a rebuild into a team that starts winning.
Item Two: Binnington, Pettersson and the Calder Conversation
Jordan Binnington is having quite a rookie season. Since his tenure as the St. Louis Blues starting goaltender, the Blues have moved back into playoff contention. Early in the season, the team was a bad example of things that could go wrong. However, that’s no longer true: Binnington and the Blues are rising together. On Tuesday, they beat the Oilers 7-2. Such wins seem typical these days.
For his part, Binnington has been dominant during his first NHL season. His record now is 18-4-1, with five shutouts and a 1.78 goals-against average in 24 games. However, Binnington’s rise to stardom isn’t changing Elias Pettersson’s status as the heavy favourite to win the Calder. The amazing Canucks rookie now has 27 goals and 34 assists in 62 games – almost a point-a-game this season. That stat line might be too good for Binnington to beat.
Item Three: Defenseman Alex Biega’s Emergence
At the trade deadline, the Canucks moved Erik Gudbranson and installed Alex Biega as the No. 3 defenseman behind Alex Edler and Troy Stecher. Biega has responded well to the move. He’s averaged more than 20 minutes a night, plays a tough, physical game and is racking up more minutes than he’s ever played during his NHL career.
As coach Travis Green notes, “He’s a guy who works hard and he’s been a good teammate for all our players. The game’s fast now. You have to be able to skate and move the puck. And he’s hard to play against.”
Biega signed a one-year contract as a minor-league free agent in the summer of 2013 and spent the season in Utica. He was called up to the Canucks during the 2014-15 season and played 51 games with the Canucks in 2015-16. He’s been up and down since.
He has another year left on his contract and, fortunately, the game has changed to fit his strengths. Today’s NHL defensemen need speed, mobility and an ability to move pucks out of trouble. Skating and hard work define Biega. There’s a chance he will find a place in the Canucks lineup after this season.
Item Four: Elias Pettersson Breaks Pavel Bure’s Record
Elias Pettersson made Canucks history against the Blackhawks in Monday night’s game with an assist on Markus Granlund’s 10th goal of the season. He’s now beat the great Pavel Bure’s rookie scoring record of 34 goals and 26 assists set during the 1991-92 season. After almost 30 years, Pettersson has topped a team record no other Canucks rookie had even come close to besting. Last season, Brock Boeser had a chance to break that record until a back injury put him out of the lineup.
If the Canucks are going to make a playoff run, it has to start very soon. For Canucks fans, it is difficult to know whether rooting for the team means hoping they will go on a winning streak or cement a better draft pick by losing most of their remaining games.