The term “whipping boy” comes from potentially apocryphal reports of young servants being raised alongside European princes for the sole purpose of absorbing that prince’s corporal punishment. After all, the prince is meant to represent the entire country, and one can’t go around whipping entire countries. In terms of hockey, the phrase is used to refer to those players who seem to absorb the majority of a fanbase’s wrath and take most of the blame for a team’s shortcomings. The 2018/19 Vancouver Canucks seem poised for a season full of shortcomings, and that means that one or more whipping boys are all but certain to absorb some “corporal punishment” from the fans. After all, one can’t go around complaining about entire franchises.
How They’ll Infuriate The Fanbase: Gudbranson became a potential whipping boy a week before the 2018 Trade Deadline, when fans who had been expecting a trade instead saw Gudbranson re-signed for three years and $12 million. Gudbranson’s on-ice struggles have been well-documented by all manner of analytics, and he’ll continue to be a target of the advanced stats crowd unless he can turn those numbers around.
How They Can Win Fans Over: Players like Gudbranson thrive on the “eye test,” but he hasn’t exactly been passing that with flying colours, either. Fans need to actually see more of the things that Gudbranson is supposedly valued for—physical play, crease-clearing, and holding opponents accountable—and less of the things he’s criticized for—boneheaded passes, getting beat one-on-one, and being turned around in the defensive zone.
How They’ll Infuriate The Fanbase: The injury to Loui Eriksson has temporarily solved the issue of Vancouver’s forward glut, but it’s only a matter of time before the team must choose between Gagner’s veteran presence and that of younger players like Nikolay Goldobin and Brendan Leipsic. If sticking with Gagner costs the Canucks one of those players, and if he ends up taking powerplay time away from more promising forwards, the fanbase will turn on him more than it already has.
How They Can Win Fans Over: If Gagner has any hope of winning Canuck fans over, he has to produce more offense than he did in 2017/18. A return to his career average of 40-50 points, along with some reliable powerplay production, will go a long way toward justifying Gagner’s roster spot—though even then some fans would prefer a younger player were in his place.
How They’ll Infuriate The Fanbase: Sutter has an unfortunate history of calling out his younger teammates publicly—see his comments on Nikolay Goldobin and his “balls”—and that sort of thing will always rub this fanbase the wrong way. If Sutter dares to speak ill of Elias Pettersson at any point in the upcoming season, it would undoubtedly result in his effigy being burned on the steps of Rogers Arena. If he takes powerplay time away from Pettersson, the response could be nearly as angry.
How They Can Win Fans Over: Sutter can win the fanbase over by single-handedly sheltering Elias Pettersson’s transition to the NHL. Between Sutter and Jay Beagle, there’s really no reason for Pettersson to take a single faceoff in the defensive zone this season—and if Sutter can play a dedicated checking role without complaining, most fans will appreciate it.
How They’ll Infuriate The Fanbase: As the recent recipient of a large UFA contract, Roussel is already under the spotlight as he begins his career in Vancouver. He also has an unfortunate habit for taking ill-timed penalties, and that’s not ideal for a player in his position. It’s the sort of thing that made Derek Dorsett a frustrating player for many fans, and Roussel could draw similar ire if he can’t curb the minor penalties.
How They Can Win Fans Over: While minor penalties will be a problem for Roussel, fans aren’t going to be all that upset if he picks up a bunch of majors. In other words, if Roussel can provide a consistent physical presence on the Canucks while simultaneously standing up for their multitude of young players, he’ll endear himself to Vancouverites rather quickly.
How They’ll Infuriate The Fanbase: In short, by continuing to produce like a $3 million player on a $6 million contract. The response to Eriksson’s preseason injury says volumes about how the fanbase already feels about him and, if his offense can’t rebound, it’s going to be a long four years before his deal expires.
How They Can Win Fans Over: Eriksson doesn’t need to return to the 70-point seasons of his past, but putting up 50-ish like the Sedins did last year would go a long way toward rehabilitating his image. If Eriksson can also fill some of the gap in Swedish leadership left behind by the Twins and mentor Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen, he might even end up a fan favourite.
How They’ll Infuriate The Fanbase: If Juolevi makes the team, he’ll be joining one of the statistically least-effective defenses in the league, and that will mean he’s on the ice for plenty of goals against—something that isn’t ideal in a city that likes to put young defenders under the microscope. Juolevi’s understated game might not translate to NHL production immediately, and that will only lead to more attention being paid to any defensive shortcomings he might have.
How They Can Win Fans Over: If Juolevi spends the season stapled to Chris Tanev, it will put him in a much greater position to succeed—especially when it comes to winning over fans. Juolevi would benefit from a steady partner to help minimize the consequences of his mistakes, and Tanev is probably the only defender who still qualifies as “steady” on this roster.
How They’ll Infuriate The Fanbase: If Edler continues to refuse to waive his no-trade clause heading into the 2019 Trade Deadline, it’s going to cause some fans to turn on him. In reality, Edler is well within his rights to enforce his NTC, but the Dan Hamhuis situation has demonstrated pretty clearly how Vancouver fans will react if they feel a player is preventing the team from scoring a big return at the deadline.
How They Can Win Fans Over: If Edler can continue his solid level of play from last season, build up his value, and then land the Canucks a good pick and/or prospect at the Trade Deadline, he’ll be a hero in the eyes of most fans. Vancouver loved the Sedins for sticking with the franchise ‘til the end, but Edler doesn’t quite have the same caché, so a trade is his best bet to stay in fans’ good graces.