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Photo Credit: Vancouver Canucks / Twitter

Canucks Playing the Long Game in the Goals Column

Lost in all the hoopla of the Elias Pettersson rock show is the actual Vancouver Canucks roster. It isn’t littered with future Hall of Famers, or even more than a few All-Stars but it is on pace to have the most 20-goal scorers for the first time since 2010 when they had six above the 20 -mark and two above 30.

EP40 has led the way on this year’s journey while Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser both have had equally impressive first halves. After that, it basically drops off. Jake Virtanen is the only other player on the team with 10+ goals (11) but he hasn’t even registered a point in seven games.

The Canucks have been shutout in two of their last three games and one of them was to the bottom-dwelling New Jersey Devils 4-0, the other just came at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens which saw Pettersson knocked out early on with a leg ailment. The point was made earlier this season that if the Canucks somehow made the playoffs this year it would most likely entail that EP40 dragged this team kicking and screaming and considering they haven’t done a whole lot of the kicking, hitting, punching or otherwise, the screaming will have to do.

There are players on this team that are being paid to score goals, namely one, Loui Eriksson, and even though the ship for his goal scoring hopes have basically sailed, he’s still being paid $6 million per season to produce. We’re not beating a dead horse here because they’ve waived Sam Gagner TWICE when he had already produced at a better clip than Eriksson with only seven games played to Loui’s 44.

Gagner put up three points in seven games while Eriksson had 16, that’s .428 points-per-game to .363. Gagner also scored on the PP in his time up here and was exiled shortly after.

After the obvious elephant in the dressing room, you can look down the roster and point the finger at pretty much anyone and there is cause for concern. This team wouldn’t be anywhere close to talking about the playoffs if it weren’t for Pettersson but seeing as he’s here and has actually elevated other player’s games there should be some kind of trickle-down effect.

There hasn’t been. Here’s a list of what the Canucks have, or actually haven’t done lately:

  • Josh Leivo had a hot little start but now has 3G in his last 13GP.
  • Eriksson has 3G in his last 26 games.
  • Virtanen has 3G in 24 games.
  • Granlund has 2G in 23 games.
  • Goldobin has 3G in 22 games (maybe the healthy scratches aren’t so unwarranted).
  • Alex Edler has three of his four goals in his last 14 games and he’s on defense.

That list should be alarming.

The Canucks currently sit 13th in the league with 127 goals-for and at this point last year (44 games played) they had 116 which was all the way at the bottom in 26th spot. The bump there is obviously the emergence of EP and having Boeser on his line. Without their contributions, or at least Pettersson’s, Vancouver would be behind last year’s production. Whoever they would have added wouldn’t have had the same effect as EP, they just wouldn’t.

Many have criticized Travis Green about his usage, or lack thereof of Goldobin or his overplaying of Eriksson, two issues that have been well-chronicled in the media but the throbbing sore thumb situation is mainly on special teams or more specifically, the power-play.

It’s in a state of chaotic disarray. Vancouver’s success rate sits at 17.9% and yet they have the 3rd highest drawn penalties in the league (145), six off of the Flames for first overall.

It’s alarming because they employ both Boeser and Pettersson on the top unit with Horvat taking the draws. The setups are predictable, dreadfully predictable, and the drop pass has begun to be intercepted. That’s also a problem because it’s happening at center ice.

Last season, when the man-advantage revolved around getting Brock Boeser into his “spot”, everything funneled itself to one side and eventually Brock let’r rip. There is a potential embarrassment of riches on the first unit but the whole league knows what the Canucks are going to do when they go up a man.

Goal scoring is still a big problem for the Canucks and being fooled into thinking this team is good enough for the playoffs is somewhat a farce. Reality has been overshadowed by a great story in the first half of the season but there need to be improvements if the rebuild is in fact shaved down a year.

Goaltending has been remedied for now but even when the goaltending gives up just two goals, Vancouver needs to score at least that to keep things competitive.

Until then, we all better hope Pettersson and Boeser finish their season on an epic pace because they’re the only ones that will.

  • Kootenaydude

    Funny we were saying what a terrible predictable power play it was a month and a half ago and Green hasn’t made any changes. It will be interesting to see who performs besides Boeser and Horvat.

  • truthseeker

    I said a couple games ago that Jake needs to start cranking it up. He’s had a nice season and I still like his effort out there but he’s started to look a little hesitant in terms of taking the puck to the net or using his shot like he was earlier in the season.

    Bo needs to be better too. Again, the effort is always there and that’s great but he has to provide more offense.

    As far as the other guys, I don’t think it’s saying much we don’t already know. I used to want to see Granlund get more of an offensive opportunity but the fact is the guy is just not an offensive player. If you look at his hockey db numbers he’s never reached a point a game anywhere he’s played. Even when young. Goldy and Sven, are decent but the both seem to lack a certain knack for the net like EP and Boeser. The kind of players that frustrate because they get good chances but seem to miss when they should be burying them.

    I said after Leivo’s first few games that I’d wait for the “new player/new team” adrenaline to wear off before I judged, and unfortunately that’s sort of what’s happened.

    Thing is though, players go through ups and downs in a long season. I expect Bo to bounce back and start to be more Bo like. And I’m not that worried about JV. I think he’ll find something like that groove he had earlier in the season. Not sure I could say the same about the others. I certainly hope Sven and Goldy can play better.

    As for the PP….yeah it’s been awful looking in spite of the fact they’ve gotten goals recently that they wouldn’t have last season. Don’t know if anyone read this but I thought it was one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a long time about the issue…

    https://www.vancourier.com/pass-it-to-bulis/canucks-have-already-used-similar-tactics-to-switzerland-s-world-junior-power-play-1.23564814

    I think our play off chances died with that long losing streak earlier in the year. Teams just can’t afford to go through something like that in the NHL these days. Still though…you never know. Everyone likes to point to a “playoff point number” that will get you in based on prior seasons and I get why, but it’s still just a floating number that changes year to year. Maybe a lot of teams will suck this year and the wild card spot will be in the 80’s. The Ducks are on pace for 88 right now in the last spot so who knows.

    • Defenceman Factory

      I did see the article from Wagner. Clearly the Canucks need to vary things up on the PP. Not sure Edler is dynamic enough to be the QB. Hutton doesn’t shoot as hard but more of his shots get through and his passing is better. With a fairly lax schedule this moth hopefully the coaches can add some new approaches.

    • speering major

      Bo had been stuffed in to a checking roll with grinders for a while. The Canucks suffer from both a lack of depth and injury prone core players. Sutter is back but will likely need some time to get going.

      I actually think the ownership and fan base getting excited at the prospect of competing for a playoff spot could be a big drag on the rebuild. Drafting within the top 10 and having a legit shot at one of the lottery slots would be huge compared to picking around 15th. On top of that, failing to sell at the deadline would be another mistake. Hopefully Tanev stays healthy and demand picks up for RHD approaching the deadline. It would also be nice to move on from Sutter if there’s a good deal out there. The team should be prepared to compete in the 2020-2021 season. If they step up next year, that’s just a bonus.

      A lot of the problems right now are depth. The roster is full of low end 3rd liners and 4th liners. Good teams have players pushing for a top 6 role. JV isn’t consistent partly because of his ability but also because of his linemates. He can use his speed to get to the net for a great chance here and there but he’s not the type of player that will drive offence consistently. He needs to have better linemates for consistency.

      • truthseeker

        That’s true that he’s been in a different role, but Bo and JV too are both guys who create a lot on their own. I’m not saying they should be scoring like EP, but they’ve fallen off their own “normal” pace of generating offense for themselves. They need to get back to that.

        And yeah, depth is obviously still an issue. I would still rather see them progress with winning this season then worry about things totally out of your control like finishing position. We’ll finish where we finish and if that’s 15 then fine with me. No matter where we finish out of the playoffs it’s still a lottery ticket no matter how small the odds. And there will still be good young talent at those positions.

        As with any trade, I’m in favor depending on the return. If the return can provide more value in the long term than the player you’re considering trading, then do it. If not, then don’t. If the best offer for Sutter is a 3rd or 4th round pick for example, then it would not be a mistake to keep him at the deadline. If it’s a first round pick then yeah, trade him. It really all depends on the offers. Too many people here call non trades “mistakes” when they have absolutely no clue what was on offer. If someone offers you 500 bucks for your reliable 5 to 10 year old Toyota, it’s not a “mistake” to turn them down.

  • Holly Wood

    The power play break out has become so predictable that it’s now dangerous to use. A lot of teams are using the delayed drop pass to gain the O zone , except now clubs are stacking up defenders between the red and blue lines.Those defenders have lost most of there momentum, so it’s likely that the old dump and chase will win some battles. Throwing that back into the plan a few times per game may open up some ice. The diamond formation the Canucks and others is being defended by checkers collapsing down creating somewhat of a logjam that is hard to get pucks through. The return of using two point men may open up some space. Maybe the second unit tries that old wrinkle because that unit has had no success of late.

  • Defenceman Factory

    First off for always94 I think this is the best written post from you I have read. Good quality work.

    Second I think almost all of us would agree we have appreciated the troll free environment over the last while. Unfortunately I see “the cockroach” is back. Hopefully he will be dealt with again.

    Most people who follow this team closely know there is not enough depth yet to be a serious contender. That is what gives rise to team tank and the desire to see veterans moved for picks or prospects. The Canucks have a number of decent players to round out the roster but even with Hughes they are at least 2 or 3 high quality players away from being a strong team. What is more concerning is the age and injury history of their two best Dmen.

    I have been okay with a patient rebuild that ensured enough veteran presence to take the tough minutes. Now I’d like to see them speed it up, trade out some vets and extra pieces to add young Dmen or the picks to get them and sign one of Skinner, Pateren or other top quality LWer.

    Edler and Tanev are not the foundation you can build a contending team on any more. Keeping them makes the team better for a couple years but worse in 3 or 4. Signing top quality UFA Dmen is extremely difficult and expensive. It should not be part of the longer term strategy.

    • speering major

      I agree except I would hold off on signing FA’s. Maybe a depth D to stabilize if they move out a vet or 2. I think the 2020 summer is when you look at signing someone notable again. That could change if they won the lottery/Hughes though. In that case I would look at a players like Ferland.

      I think the most likely scenario is holding re-signing Edler because letting him walk for nothing is the worst outcome and he probably won’t waive. That leaves the door wide open to move Tanev. I don’t think the value is high enough for a Guddy move. With Hughes looking likely to become a #1D, I think there’s a respectable group in the system that should produce some solid depth. It takes time though. I think patience is the key, see how these guys progress before signing or trading for a core piece. Stetcher and Hutton may not be top pairing guys but they are young and competent. Add Hughes and Edler and you have most of your minutes right there. No need to rush and plug holes IMO.

      Between, Chatfield, OJ, Woo, Tryamkin, Utunen and Rathbone, the should likely see one or 2 emerge as (likely/potential) useful NHL depth players to surround Hughes within this year and next.

      Edler, Stetcher, Hutton, Hughes

      Guddy, Tryamkin, OJ, Chatfield, Woo, Utunen, Rathbone

      I don’t see any need to rush or panic. The team has a enough guys to stabilize the top 4 and a solid looking prospect pool that will have time to emerge

  • canuckfan

    Benning and his mmanagement team have a plan and will be sticking to it. Defense is a weakness and from watching the Jr’s I don’t see Hughes coming in and carrying the team. His weaknesses have been exposed, yes he can skate but he has made a number of bad decisions with the puck. Not a real negative if he learns from his mistakes, but if his confidence has him thinking he hasn’t made a mistake he will be a disaster.
    So do we trade Edler if he agrees to waive, and move Tanev. If we do it will set the team back. I am torn both ways of what the team should do. If they are both traded I am quite sure they will be difference makers on any team that would aquire them

  • Killer Marmot

    My theory is that Green has been pushing the players to improve defensively.

    In November when the Canucks lost 11 of 14 games, they gave up 3.8 regular-time goals per game. Green probably figured that the Canucks had no chance if they were that easy to score on.

    But if that is what did happen, it has come at the cost of secondary scoring.

  • Hockey Bunker

    And for those who want to dump Edler and Tanev for picks or prospects think about this.
    Picks or prospects particularly D men take 3 years to develop.
    Canucks can still draft and develop those players while keeping Edler and Tanev.
    Over time Edler and Tanev move down the depth chart as younger players move up. That’s proper progression.
    Dumping Edler and Tanev means Hutton and Stetcher are the top pairing.
    Hughes and OJ are given NHL spots rather than earn them.
    Biega is a regular or Woo has to be rushed into the lineup.
    It’s a nightmare scenario.
    We’ll be talking about trading Horvat to get younger before the team is competitive.
    I want to see players beat out Edler and Tanev and I think management agrees. That’s the time to move on, not before.
    They are our top NHL defensemen. Coach Green can say ” you think you are good, think you are NHL ready? Prove it. Take their jobs”

  • Burnabybob

    This article makes some good points. People talk about the shortage of defensive prospects, but there is also a big drop off after their top three forwards. Goldobin and Dahlen have been underwhelming, Virtanen looks like a career bottom six player. Baertschi is solid, but not really a top line player.

    I’ve personally been intent on them drafting an RHD in the first round, but there’s room for improvement on offense as well.

    • Fortitude00

      Unfortunately for the Canucks if they miss the playoffs there is no RHD rated in the top 20. Honka and Soderstrom are ranked in that 22-25 range. I did see Soderstrom close to 15 earlier in the year but that is not going to be a difference maker for the team anytime soon.

  • Hockey Bunker

    We need to lower our expectations of Quinn Hughes, for his sake so he isn’t run out of town by an angry Twitter mob the first time he goes Minus 3. He is not going to be a number one Dman in the traditional sense of the minute munching mold of Weber for example, or Lidstrom etc. He is a playmaking D. Should see lots of PP time, overtime, or when team is down a goal late with the goalie pulled, along with sheltered 5 on 5 and no penalty kill time.
    He doesn’t have a booming shot so he is a set up guy.
    In a close game with Canucks in the lead he won’t step on the ice while a true number one D would never leave the ice.
    That said he could be a 50 point guy… The highest scoring D….who plays under 20 minutes a night. A specialist, who grows a better defensive game over time but with limits.
    Canucks still need a traditional number one D man and that should be the draft priority.
    Hughes will be fun to watch but knowing Canucks fans half will hate his game and the other half will demand Green play him more!
    Depending who drafts Jack Hughes, Canucks may see that team offer something for Quinn. Could be tempting……
    FYI I’m a Quinn Hughes fan and don’t want to see him crushed by expectations.

  • TheRealPB

    Interesting article, but I think you’ve got some problems in the logic. Comparing last year to this is tough off the bat because it’s not just about adding EP, you’re also subtracting the Sedins and Vanek from the top five in scoring. In fact, I just saw a graphic that Tyler Dellow posted that showed that if you look at scoring (points or goals) outside of the top five players on each team, the Canucks actually have quite decent depth (as you say at the lead of the article). Yes, Eriksson is overpaid but there is a whole host of players who have provided secondary scoring (Virtanen, Granlund, Stetcher, Motte, Baertschi). It’s not huge, but it’s not as bad as three shutouts in the last six games would suggest. And yes we don’t win much without Horvat, EP or Boeser scoring, but we’re not nearly as reliant on them as some of the other teams in the league are. The worst not surprisingly are the Oilers but there are a lot of other teams that are terrible. The Canucks are 11th in terms of depth scoring, with much of that coming from younger players.

  • Robby-D

    I’m so tired of the “Eriksson is overpaid” statement. Almost all free agents are overpaid. The problem here is that Eriksson doesn’t seem to be trying. To my eye, he’s coasting. Like all pros, he’s being paid not just to put up numbers but to be his best, yet most nights at most times he’s clearly not putting it all on the ice. If the Canucks were paying $3M / yr for his services I’d still be disappointed in his play and hoping for somebody to come along and challenge for his roster spot.

    That player is not and will never be Gagner. He may have some numbers better than Eriksson, but as awful as Eriksson has been, and as little effort as he has been putting in, his talent and hockey intelligence is such that he is still a much better player and asset for this team than Gagner.

  • DJ_44

    Goal scoring is still a big problem for the Canucks and being fooled into thinking this team is good enough for the playoffs is somewhat a farce.

    The Canucks sit middle of the pack in goals-for, as the article points out. But this in no was aligns with the above statement. If the Canucks get the PP going (and by that I mean have solid zone entries and puck recovery), they they will be top ten in goals-for.

    At the start of the season, all the “experts” stated 5v5 goals will be more or less non-existent for the Canucks this year …I think they are trying to justify their poor prediction with a bunch of “ya buts”.

    To think the Canucks have this many goals after the brutal first half schedule and the large number of injuries to top player should be viewed as an incredible success story. It actually is viewed as a success story by most media outside of Vancouver. This is more than apparent if you listen to opposing teams play-by-play broadcast during Canucks games; they are more than complimentary.

  • canuckfan

    With Pettersson out we are back to not be the greatest has a hard time watching the leafs game with the gold metal game on the next channel. Not a bad road trip but getting shut out a few times is troublesome Markstron played well we were just out powered.
    The gold metal game gives us hope Hughes and Maden have played well Hughes set up the play that got the US on the board. The Finnish defender Canucks drafted is doing well nice to see.