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Photo Credit: © Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

If the season started tomorrow, this is what the best Canucks’ lineup looks like

If today was your last day, and tomorrow was too late, could you say goodbye to yesterday?

Nickelback said this is in their 2008 worldwide smash hit “If Today Was Your Last Day”.

Personally, I would certainly be able to say goodbye to yesterday because I left my bedroom for about 45 minutes all day.

Recently I was listening to this Nickelback song, as any person without highbrow taste in music would, and then it hit me.

What if the season were to actually resume tomorrow?

Would Jacob Markstrom still be a top tier goaltender?

Would everyone be healthy?

Would Jake Virtanen be out of shape again?

These questions will be answered soon enough. As for the lineup, that’s where I’ll bring the opinions. So if the NHL were to come out and say that the season would resume tomorrow, how would this team look moving into game action?

There’s a lot to get into, so let’s go!

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The Forward Group

First line: JT Miller-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

The lotto line returns.

Head coach Travis Green had been experimenting with different wingers to play alongside JT Miller and Elias Pettersson all throughout the season. The last time we saw the Canucks play, Green had new guy Tyler Toffoli running with the dynamic duo. In that final game against the Islanders, we got to see Brock Boeser play alongside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson.

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If Travis Green believes that the best move is to match up the Pettersson ensemble against the other team’s top line, it may be a better move to have Toffoli play on that line. He is a better two-way player than Boeser and also drives play a tad bit better. That being said, Boeser puts up more goals/60 and has developed chemistry from playing the majority of the season with the Miller-Pettersson duo.

The reason I think Boeser is a better option on the Pettersson line also takes into account what that means for Bo Horvat’s line. Toffoli gives that line a scoring boost while maintaining the high level of defence needed if they are going to continue to be deployed in a matchup role.

Speaking of the second line. Let’s go there.

Second line: Tanner Pearson-Bo Horvat-Tyler Toffoli

We used to have twins, now we have used to be Kings.

Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson have played a ton of 5-on-5 hockey together this season. Horvat played 69.4% of his 5-on-5 time with Tanner Pearson on his wing. Tanner Pearson played 75% of his 5-on-5 time with Bo Horvat as his centre. This duo would definitely continue to see time together if the season resumed tomorrow.

The addition to that line should be the scoring threat that is Tyler Toffoli.

Tyler Toffoli would be the best scoring threat to play alongside Pearson and Horvat this season.

The top three minute getters alongside Horvat and Pearson so far were Loui Eriksson, Jake Virtanen and Josh Leivo.

The chemistry that Toffoli and Pearson had in Los Angeles, and chemistry that Horvat and Pearson have had since Pearson arrived in Vancouver, could mix together better than Nesquik and 2% milk. Creating a tasty second line like that instantly makes the Canucks top six group one of the strongest in the NHL if chemistry clicks as it should.

Toffoli’s most consistent winger partner from 2016-19 was Tanner Pearson. The duo played much better together than they did apart. When Toffoli had Pearson on his wing during those seasons he saw a jump in his Corsi percentage, goal share, expected goal share and share of scoring chances.

Travis Green didn’t give this line much of an opportunity to play together during Toffoli’s 10-game introduction to the team. The trio of Pearson-Horvat-Toffoli only played together for five minutes and ten seconds of 5-on-5 ice time in those 10 games.

So it is a mystery if Green will have this line in mind in the event of a return to play.

Third line: Josh Leivo-Adam Gaudette-Jake Virtanen

Travis Green loves Josh Leivo while Canucks fans love Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen.

This third line has the potential to be very effective against similar third lines around the league that it would find itself matching up against. After the six forwards that I’ve already mentioned, Josh Levio is the highest in average ice-time with 15:01 per game.

Josh Leivo does have a big question mark going into the reboot of the season, however — his knee.

Two weeks ago Jim Benning said that Josh Leivo was currently rehabbing. I think we are at the point now that Leivo would be good to go after suffering a fractured knee cap at the end of December.

The coach loves the way that Leivo competes. Leivo gets up and down the ice with authority and can score goals if the opportunity is presented. He would be a great defensive boost to a third line that has two players that do lack defensive awareness at times.

Leivo only spent three minutes and ten seconds on the penalty kill over 36 games this season. This may be a spot that the coach needs to use him with the current lineup. We did see JT Miller killing a lot of penalties near the end of the season and that may be a good option moving forward as well.

I like this line in the playoffs because it seems like a lot of the time teams that win series’ tend to have a bottom-six line that dominates the goal share. With the offensive ability in these three players, they have the potential to be that line for this Canucks team.

Fourth line: Antoine Roussel-Jay Beagle-Tyler Motte

This would be the “don’t get scored on” line.

A Travis Green special.

Roussel is probably the safest choice in this spot as his metrics track him out as an effective player on your fourth line. The option of using Brandon Sutter or Zack MacEwen should be considered there too.

Whether it’s Roussel or Motte coming out of the lineup, figuring out the role and effectiveness of the fourth line would be a decision made by the coach after getting a feel for the right trio.

If energy is what you’re looking for, you go with Motte.

If you need some physicality, it’s time for #TheBigFella Zack MacEwen.

If Brandon Sutter is your cup of tea, go with him.

The problem is the penalty kill. You get value from your fourth line when Jay Beagle and Brandon Sutter are killing penalties. They logged a ton of PK time this season and do a solid job in that role. In this situation, my four penalty killers would be Miller-Pearson and Beagle-Motte as the penalty killing forward groups.

Tyler Motte shows some very exciting underlying numbers on the penalty kill but has been blessed with a 0.927 save percentage behind him. Harman taught me that lesson.

The trio of Roussel-Beagle-Motte could still go on to score a few goals. Motte and Roussel can get hot at times and Beagle had three points in his last five games. He was just heating up!

Extras: Brandon Sutter and Zack MacEwen

The Moon: Loui Eriksson

Position LW C RW
First Line Miller Pettersson Boeser
Second Line Pearson Horvat Toffoli
Third Line Leivo Gaudette Virtanen
Fourth Line Roussel Beagle Motte
Extras Sutter MacEwen

Defence Pairings

First Pair: Alex Edler-Tyler Myers

It hurts to not see Quinn Hughes’ name on the first pairing.

Hughes will get a ton of time on the powerplay but at 5-on-5 Alex Edler and Tyler Myers will continue to get the bulk of the ice time.


Defensive pair stats provided by NaturalStatTrick.

The defensive pairing of Edler and Myers didn’t play a ton of minutes together this season. They began the year as partners but Troy Stecher worked his way up to becoming Edler’s partner and Myers would get more time on the third pairing with either Jordie Benn or Oscar Fantenberg.

If you’re looking for a minute eating duo that can move the puck relatively well, Edler and Myers are your guys. Later on in games you can adjust the pairs to have Myers and Hughes partner up to bring more offence.

Second Pair: Quinn Hughes and Chris Tanev

The special teams kings link up.

This pairing was the most consistent duo we saw all reason long. Logging a whopping 705:48 together at 5-on-5.

Hughes and Tanev work well together, their styles play well off of each other and it helps round out the top four. Though the Hughes-Myers duo has some pretty strong analytics behind it. This is a solid spot for Hughes to play to his potential. Tanev is always there to cover for Hughes and is great at disrupting offensive chances in front of his own net before they even have time to develop.

It was great to see Chris Tanev play a healthy season for the Canucks. It was even better to see him have success with Hughes. Hughes definitely brought out the best in Tanev, who posted a 40.38% Corsi percentage when away from the sensational rookie defenceman.

It was strange to see that Hughes has a lower goals against per hour and expected goals against per hour when away from Tanev. It feels like Tanev does a great job of helping Hughes in the corners and around the crease. This is where you can rely entirely upon the analytics. Tanev does help Hughes in the defensive zone, the eye-test can provide the evidence for that.

We may see the Hughes-Myers pairing link up late in games when the team is trailing. It was something that Travis Green consistently did to spark the offence. The Hughes-Tanev group would play less when the team is trailing as the Hughes-Myers pairing would get a jump in ice-time.

With the Hughes-Myers pairing on the ice, the team scores more goals, 1.58GF/60 more than the Hughes-Tanev pairing to be exact. With the Hughes-Tanev on the ice, the team only scores 2.47GF/60 while the Hughes-Myers pair is over 4GF/60.

These stats would make you want to believe that Tyler Myers is the better option to be Quinn Hughes’ partner.

You would probably be right. If Hughes was being used as the first pairing defenceman at 5-on-5 then Myers would be a better option. But as a whole, the top four is better when Edler is paired with Myers and Hughes is with Tanev.

Third Pair: Oscar Fantenberg and Troy Stecher

They haven’t been scored on yet, so why break them apart?

That’s right, in their limited 79:49 of 5-on-5 ice time together, the Fantenberg-Stecher pairing has not been scored on. They post an xGF% of 46.85%.

For a third pairing on this Canucks team, that is a decent percentage. I wouldn’t complain if my third pairing controlled 47% of the goal share at 5-on-5, especially with Quinn Hughes in my top four.

The idea of Jordie Benn on the right side should be floated but I don’t know if we have seen enough of it to sit Troy Stecher out of the lineup. Even with Brogan Rafferty now available as a black ace type of player. The best bet is to have Jordie Benn as the seventh defencemen. Benn could hop in to either side if someone’s game were to stall or an injury would occur.

If Myers were to go down with an injury there may be a path for Rafferty to come in and run the second powerplay.

Seventh Defenceman: Jordie Benn

Goalie: Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko

Jacob Markstrom is back in the starter’s role if he is 100% healthy and everyone expects him to be there. Thatcher Demko could see some games if the NHL is looking to play out every single game remaining in the season. I don’t think we will be seeing that.

Demko may get a game if Markstrom has two consecutive bad games. I just don’t see the team going away from the player who has single-headedly won them the most games this season.

A playoff run will depend on Markstrom’s ability to play at his elite level that we all saw this season.

So there it is, the Canucks best possible lineup if the season was to start tomorrow.

This is how you remind me that this team can be animals that have the potential to become Vancouver rockstars. It would be great to look at this roster in a photograph and think it’s the roster that didn’t burn it to the ground and instead gotta be somebody with a playoff run under their belts. They aren’t far away.

Forwards:

Miller Pettersson Boeser
Pearson Horvat Toffoli
Leivo Gaudette Virtanen
Roussel Beagle Motte
Extras: MacEwen, Sutter

Defence:

Edler Myers
Hughes Tanev
Fantenberg Stecher
Extra: Benn

I know there are plenty of opinions out there and I would love to see your best lineups in the comments. I think this is the best they can put out there. Their special teams are covered and they have players that can come into the lineup for different situations or if injuries occur.

I’d like to see this team compete in the playoffs.