I’d like to say that the Vancouver Canucks hit something of a rock bottom on Tuesday night in Minnesota after yet another embarrassingly listless showing. But given the way they’ve been trending of late, it’s an all too realistic possibility that a statement like that is deemed outdated the moment they step back onto the ice.
It also implies that now that they’ve reached this point, things can only get better. I’m not sure there’s any obvious reason to believe that’s true. The situation in Vancouver may very well need to get worse in the short term before it inspires chance and gets better over the long haul.
Much like the showing the other night, it may not be pretty at the moment, but it’s a necessarily evil for the greater good. If only, to save the Canucks from themselves.
To say that the Canucks have fallen off of a cliff this season as the year has progressed would, well, actually be a very fitting description:
That game mentioned above against the Wild may have been the nadir, but the reality is that this has been something that’s been festering for a while now. The season-long numbers themselves aren’t anything to write home about by any means, but the past month’s worth of data is uniformly grisly.
In the 14 games, the Canucks have played since November 15th their 44.7% score-adjusted possession rate at five-on-five is the 2nd worst figure in the league just slightly ahead of the Colorado Avalanche. During that same segment of games only the Panthers have been generating fewer scoring chances on average, and coming back the other way no one has been surrendering a greater number of scoring chances than they have. Keying in on high-danger chances paints the same picture. To put their respective 40.2% and 39.7% regular scoring chance and high danger chance percentages into some context, the Buffalo Sabres were at 40.9% and 37.3% last season. That team wasn’t even pretending to be trying to actually win hockey games. Putting it all together, they’re now 20th in possession, 30th in scoring chances, and 29th in high danger scoring chances on the year.
For all of the flack that Jim Benning receives – and deservedly so, given that he’s in large part responsible for shaping what this incarnation of the Canucks looks like – he finds himself in a rather unenviable situation. A steadily growing segment of the online fanbase has already voiced their frustrations with the organization. Based on a recent revelation, a team that used to be appointment television is now being cast to the side in favour of other, more entertaining viewing options. Others have been putting their money where their mouth is by skipping home games entirely. Those have to be disconcerting trends for a franchise that’s made a concerted effort in recent years to try and win back fans and rekindle some of that good will they built up during the Presidents’ Trophy seasons.
There’s also the elephant in the room regarding the Sedins, who have been doing everything in their power to try and drag this underwhelming roster towards some sort of relevance this season. Despite the fact that they’ve been one of the few redeeming qualities, and their production has been nothing short of awe-inspiring, you have to figure they have so many more high-quality bullets in the chamber. While it’s gut wrenching to envision them finishing their careers in a different uniform as they chase that ever-elusive Stanley Cup ring, it seems equally unbecoming for players of their caliber to be playing their final games in this mess. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s a simple, satisfying resolution there.
With just under 30 games remaining until the February 29th trade deadline, the Canucks have some decisions to make about how they’re going to approach the rest of this season. Taking a step back and evaluating your place in the league’s hierarchy in an objective, realistic manner is an equally difficult yet important thing for a front office to be able to do. It’s easy to see how they could look around at the pathetic Pacific division they’re in – which remarkably has only one team that has won more games than its lost thus far – and figure there’s an opening there to try and squeak into the playoffs, and make a few extra bucks.
That’d be a horrible miscalculation on their part. For a vast stretch of time now, the Canucks have far more closely resembled a team that’s in the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes discussion than one which could make some noise in the playoffs. If anything, come the deadline they should be selling off veterans (particularly the ones that will walk this summer and next, like Vrbata, Higgins, Burrows, and Prust) for any assets they can cobble together from teams that are legitimate contenders. The worst thing they could do right now is deeply entrench themselves in that late 2000s Flames level of mediocrity where you’re not good enough to win anything, but not bad enough to help yourself get better moving forward.
More thorough beatdowns like the one they received at the hands of the Wild may prevent the team’s brass from deluding themselves and eventually reaching that conclusion. That’s ultimately a good thing, even if it won’t be pretty to watch.