Looking at the last time the Canucks were this bad, this young

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 4.07.25 PM

(Image sourced from www.WindsorStar.com)

Sometimes I think (the royal we included) take for granted how successful the Vancouver Canucks have been on this side of the millennium. They may not have a Stanley Cup to their credit, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t come as close as humanly possible.

Like most teams though the Canucks had to be bad to get good. Vancouver didn’t find the Sedin twins in the middle rounds of the draft. They had to hit rock bottom to get there. To that exact end, one might argue that the 1998-99 season was the best in Canucks history. Didn’t make it any less painful at the time, though.

That season was a deep breath before the plunge into a full-fledged rebuild. In a lot of ways, it mirrors the season the Canucks are currently suffering. They had a bevy of young talent making their debuts and an outdated core on their way to pasture – highlighted at the top by Mark Messier.

If this season has any context added to the one limping to an end as we speak, it’s the youth movement they undertook. Players like Ed Jovanovski, Matthias Ohlund and Matt Cooke were dipping their toes in the pool of NHL action and in some cases developing into full-time contributors. So too were several other neophytes, but their place in Canucks lore never really took hold like those three.

Some, like Bryan McCabe, took their talents to greener pastures by the time they’d developed into anything resembling a core piece. Others, like Josh Holden, Chris McAllister and Steve Washburn never amounted to much of anything, anywhere, and fanned out of the NHL before ever breaking the ranks of journeymen.

That’s the long form way of describing the challenges youngsters face in establishing themselves as NHL regulars. It’s just like the draft. More are going to fan out than make it, and even fewer of those that crack the NHL are going to develop into regular contributors at the high-end of their teams rosters. In that sense, the 98-99 season was a stepping stone for a relatively high amount of top of the lineup talent.

A similar argument can be made for the Canucks this season. Ben Hutton is leading the way, looking more the part of a top-four defender with each passing shift. Not far behind are Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen – first-round pedigrees in tow. There’s company on the peripheries, too.

Making apples to apples comparisons would prove difficult. There’s just so little information with which to make informed comparisons. Let’s see if there are any lessons or patterns in there, though, that we can apply to this season. Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 1.08.06 PM

For the purpose of this exercise, the cut-off age is 23. Allotting for games lost to injury, it looks as though the Canucks had four, maybe five players stepping into full-time roles that season. That’s, more or less, where the Canucks have been this season. Where the modern Canucks outdo their 98-99 counterparts is the number of players making their NHL debut in that age group – seven rookies to the late-nineties four. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 1.14.24 PM

If we look exclusively at point shares, this year’s version of the Canucks outdo their predecessors by way of key contributors. Ohlund leads the way for both groups with 5.3 PS, but there’s not an awful lot happening around him. Hutton leads the U24 Canucks of this year with 2.7, but Sven Baertschi isn’t far behind with 2.3 PS of his own.

Nine of the fourteen U24 players for the 98-99 Canucks developed into bona fide NHL players. I would expect at least as many from the current Canucks roster to break that threshold. At least four or five of the 98-99 Canucks U24 players developed into core members of the team going forward, and again, I can’t imagine we’ll see any less from the current Canucks do the same.

There may not be a pair of Swedish super-twins at the end of the Canucks rainbow this season. But any of a pair of Finnish prospects expected to go in the second or third overall selection range might serve as near consolation. Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine may not be related, but if their performance at the World Junior Championships this winter is any indication, chemistry wouldn’t be an issue. Perhaps I’ve put the cart ahead of the horses, though.

I think I speak for most Canucks fans when I say any one of the two would be just dandy and fine. Assuming the draft lottery prevents as much, there’s every reason to believe that, based on the two rosters I’ve compared, the Canucks have a swath of NHL ready players on the cusp of developing into high-profile NHL’ers. Perhaps the future isn’t as bleak as it seems. That’s certainly the case if you use the 1998-99 Canucks as a benchmark. 

Grant Logo

Find out more information at www.canada.ca

  • Andy

    A more positive tone to this article. With that many youngsters integrated into the lineup this season no wonder the team has falllen off a cliff. It’s obvious that the young guys are fading at this point in the season, ideally they would have been more effective given less minutes but injuries precipitated the need for their roles to increase. From the long-term perspective this season has been necessary and hopefully nets them a first line forward or top 2 d man they are missing.

  • Andy

    Or Matthews. Have we already written off winning the draft lottery? Wouldn’t fit with the team’s general history as luck goes, but it could still happen.

    While that season does seem like a comparable, it should be noted that none of the forwards mentioned prior to the Sedin twins amounted to anything more than a 3rd liner for the team: Cooke was a decent contributor, but most of the rest of them were busts, even guys with decent pedigree like Holden or good starts like Scatchard (and Bertuzzi of course, but he barely even makes the age cutoff). So, as much as I’m cautiously optimistic about the future, the only forwards who are obviously going to “work out” with no risk of bustitude (should be a word) are Bo and Baer, in my opinion.

    • andyg

      Haha, pretty much. I am resigned to the fact that (given the team’s luck) they won’t get the top pick…I just hope they at least pick 2 or 3 (I think Laine will be special so hopefully 2).

        • andyg

          I have wondered that myself. If they get Matthews every Canadian hockey fan will see the draft as fixed. It would really increase the hatred and lack of trust for the man.

          • Andy

            You still underestimating Bettman, eh?

            Auston Matthews, the local boy wearing Coyotes gear, is probably the best chance that franchise has to become a successful box office draw. We’ve seen in the past that Bettman is willing to prop them up, keep them afloat at the other franchises expense; no way this gift horse gets sent back…

            Watch…

  • Andy

    Or Matthews. Have we already written off winning the draft lottery? Wouldn’t fit with the team’s general history as luck goes, but it could still happen.

    While that season does seem like a comparable, it should be noted that none of the forwards mentioned prior to the Sedin twins amounted to anything more than a 3rd liner for the team: Cooke was a decent contributor, but most of the rest of them were busts, even guys with decent pedigree like Holden or good starts like Scatchard (and Bertuzzi of course, but he barely even makes the age cutoff). So, as much as I’m cautiously optimistic about the future, the only forwards who are obviously going to “work out” with no risk of bustitude (should be a word) are Bo and Baer, in my opinion.

  • andyg

    Let’s hope who ever we draft with our top pick is a lot closer to being NHL ready than when we picked up the Sedin’s & waited a full season after draft before they played in NHL and 5 seasons after before they became reliable high-end point producers.

    Would still like another top-notch Centre though so if we do not get Matthews at #1 Dubois will be available at 4/5.

    This fan will not complain if we have a large Finn patrolling the wing. I think it is apparent that we need offense with our 1st.

  • andyg

    Good article. This is CA at its best.

    One of the keys to the Canucks improvement post 2000 was two amazingly good trades: Stojanov for a Naslund (’96) and Linden for Bertuzzi and McCabe (’98) McCabe was part of the trade for picks 2 and 3 in the ’99 draft. Bertuzzi figured in the trade for Luongo.

    Unless the Canucks can pull off similarly brilliant trades, they’ll need to make every draft pick count.

    Another thing I would point out is that it’s far too early to speculate about the Canucks might take in the draft. We don’t even know what the final standings are yet, or how Las Vegas might factor in. The Canucks could conceivably pick anywhere from 1-10. Fortunately, there are plenty of promising young players available.

  • Andy

    Those big talented wingers from Finland eventhough 1 is Swedish could certainly give us a genuine scoring threat to match up with an aging but real good/classy Daniel. They have the size to dominate and while Laine looks great, I love the potential of the bigger Pujarjvi.

    On another note if Hammy is here next yr. what can he possibly mentor?? Hey the twins are the consummate pros and still playing at real good levels. Hammy on the ice for another 2/3 opposition goals against and generally looking like a slow,physically challenged sieve.

    You hammy lovers did notice how easy Toews went around him in the first period. I know he wants to remain a nuck but his skill set has diminshed too much,too fast. Lets remember that the Dallas gm a former nuck understood this and opted for Kris Russel instead of hammy

  • Andy

    Well most of us do hate that pipsqueek,but the draft lottery is not fixed! If it were then surely Mcdavid would never have gone to the Oilers last yr.
    He would have gone to the center of the universe,lol. Anyways am I wrong or does the team that finishes dead last only get a 20 percent chance at Auston? Cause i couls see with our horrible luck finishing dead last this yr. and missing out on him and he goes to the 2nd worst team,ahem Oilers???

    After losing 8 straight and having the blind Willy behind the bench would anybody really like to wager we won,t finish last?

  • andyg

    I don’t know, I think the better comparison would’ve been last year — Keenan was like Tortorella coming in and bringing a firestorm to the old club, alienating players and fans like. This team until the last month or so had the semblance of some kind of organization and purpose, though I think the trade deadline fiasco and subsequent deep slide has been a poor environment for development. In 1998-1999 there are very few of the young guys who have had anywhere near the prominent roles that we’ve seen this year. Aucoin and McCabe were in their fourth years in the NHL, Ohlund was in his second full year, Muckalt and Scatchard I guess were pretty raw. But you had a bunch of pros who had better seasons than we’ve seen our veterans have this year — Messier, Mogilny, Klatt, Hedican, Baron, even Strudwick gave something more than we’ve seen this year. Outside of the Sedins, Miller, and Sutter, Tanev and Hansen when they haven’t been injured most of our “pros” have been MIA. It’s meant that our young guys have had to step up and the results have obviously been mixed.

    The main reason I don’t think it’s comparable however is because I think the prospect pool we had going forward was pretty terrible. The Sedins are the biggest lottery we’ve ever won. That’s not astute planning, that’s luck. In the two years preceding the Sedin draft, the only players to have substantial NHL careers (meaning approaching or passing 200 games) were Druken, Ference, Cooke, Allen, Chubarov and Ruutu. In the two years after they were Umberger and Bieksa. We had no other players (in some cases no other prospect even played an NHL game) in basically 1998, 1999 and 2002. How is it possible to miss that badly even if you simply used Hockey Futures to do your draft board?

    The Sedins shouldn’t go to the HoF because of their point totals and because they’re good citizens. It’s because they managed to drag this team to the SCF and prominence for a decade despite the breathtaking incompetence this team has shown in drafting for 30 years. We can second-guess all we want in picking Virtanen or Horvat but let’s be thankful we’re not dealing with the teams of the late 90s.

    • andyg

      This is my sentiment exactly. I don’t care if they make a few management mistakes as long as the drafting continues on the way it has been going. A couple of more years of good drafting will put the organization back on track.
      If you look at the Oilers, their biggest problem was that outside of the first round their record was horrendous. If they had of picked up some quality players in the latter rounds their fate would have been different.

      • Dirty30

        Respectfully, no. While there have been problems ‘on the ice’ for the Oil, the reality is that management has been a walking disaster for a decade plus and there’s little a kid who has just been drafted and plopped on the ice can do about it.

        Sure, score some goals, win some games …

        and for all the scorn heaped on the Canucks ownership, they have done more for this team than all the previous owners combined.

        Just getting Utica was a big step in helping development even if we argue whether its properly deployed etc.

        I don’t know nor care what’s going on in Edmonton, but unless Lowe is the first to go, the Oilers will be in lottery territory for the next 10 years.