The 50th year of the Vancouver Canucks was an eventful one. We went through a global pandemic and learned some things about the club along the way. With that in mind, here are 50 of those things.
1. Elias Pettersson won’t go down easy. If you try to pick a playoff MVP for the Canucks, a convincing case can certainly be made for goaltender Jacob Markstrom, but Elias Pettersson proved that he won’t be physically bullied into toning it down.
Teams tried to finish every hit on him, pull out some dirty shots on him, and everything in between, but Pettersson didn’t get down on himself. In fact, he led the entire NHL playoffs in scoring for a good chunk of the tournament. This is an incredibly good sign for what he’ll be able to accomplish down the road.
2. Nobody wants to quarantine with Jake Virtanen. The Vancouver media was thinking outside the box during the weekly Zoom call player availabilities that took place during the NHL’s pause. Thomas Drance of The Athletic led the charge, asking players like Bo Horvat, JT Miller, and others, which of their teammates they’d most and least like to be quarantined with. Maybe it was a running joke, but the majority of players said Virtanen for their choice of who they’d least like to be stuck with.
3. Nikolay Goldobin never got a fair shot.
This one is an early joke to keep you on your toes, calm down.
4. Josh Leivo is the ideal middle-six winger. You’ve likely heard a few of my colleagues and I sing the praises of Josh Leivo, who appeared in just 36 games before going down with a knee injury that ended his season. He’s a UFA this season and will come cheap due to the injury keeping him out, but the sample size should be enough. Obviously, the confidence needs to be there that Leivo’s injured knee won’t be a problem down the line, but if he’s completely healthy, it’s a cheap gamble the Canucks would be wise to take.
5. Quinn Hughes should have won the Calder, and will win at least one Norris Trophy. This is quickly becoming a Thomas Drance appreciation post, but tip of the hat to him for dealing with hundreds of angry Colorado Avalanche fans who got mad at him for suggesting Hughes would pass Cale Makar in the Calder Trophy race back in December. He was spot on, and Hughes deserved that Calder Trophy. The general belief was that it would go to Makar (because East coast baby) but Hughes is only going to get better, and he’s certainly got a Norris Trophy or two in his future.
6. Quinn Hughes is the best defenceman on the Canucks. On that note, when I suggested this back in October, I had angry fans in my DM’s and comment section furious that I would besmirch the great name of Alex Edler.
As early as November, Hughes had already earned the trust of the Canucks’ coaching staff to match up against the opposition’s best, and never looked back once. He was dominant, and that carried over into the playoffs. He’s undoubtedly the most valuable defenceman the Canucks have had in the past decade, and a case could be made that he’s the most valuable defenceman to ever suit up for them.
7. These Canucks are a tight-knit group. Whether it was fellow Botchford Project recipient Natalie Hoy detailing the Canucks’ epic Mariokart battles on the Nintendo Switch while on the road, or just seeing the players hanging out with one another on their Instagram stories, it’s clear that these Canucks really like one another and that camaraderie translates to their on ice play.
8. Jay Beagle does not watch Gossip Girl. If I recall correctly though, Beagle did say he’s a fan of The Office, so I think he deserves a pass on this one.
9. Hughes was the first to show the Canucks Gossip Girl. I’m awaiting confirmation from my sources, but the story right now is that Quinn Hughes introduced Brock Boeser to Gossip Girl, who then showed the show to Elias Pettersson during quarantine.
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🤙🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) July 26, 2020
10. Jacob Markstrom was going to get a LOT of money this offseason. Noted goaltending guru Kevin Woodley has repeatedly beat the drum that the advanced stats not available to the public suggest that Markstrom is a top two goaltender in the league. Markstrom was nothing short of remarkable this season and earned his big payday with the Calgary Flames, but more on them later.
11. The Calgary Flames were ready to pounce. The Calgary Flames were being called the Calgary Canucks after they signed both Chris Tanev and Markstrom to lucrative deals (both of which were overpayments, by the way). To add insult to injury, they then signed the Canucks’ bubble baker Louis Domingue to a deal as well.
12. Jacob Markstrom masked a lot of this team’s holes. The Canucks defence was certainly one of their weaknesses last year, but they could often get away with having a poor defence on most nights because of Jacob Markstrom’s exceptional goaltending.
13. Thatcher Demko has shown flashes of brilliance, and three playoff performances should show it’s sustainable. I talked to Demko during the pandemic about the amount of pressure he was facing during that tough stretch of games in March when the Canucks were stumbling a bit while trying to stay in the playoff hunt. He said it was more pressure than he’d ever felt before, but surely, it wasn’t nearly as much pressure as there was in the playoffs on the brink of elimination. If he can do that, I have no doubt in my mind that he can do it as a starter, as well. Demko talked about the importance of Ian Clark during that time. Hey, speaking of Ian Clark…
14. Ian Clark is very, very important. The Canucks’ goaltending coach is someone who finds success everywhere he goes, and Vancouver is no exception. He morphed Markstrom into a Vezina calibre goalie, and as chronicled on this very site not too long ago, helped Thatcher Demko through the toughest stretch of games of his career.
15. Thatcher Demko’s value has never been higher than it was after the playoffs. If ever there were a time to trade a goaltender, after the playoffs was that time. The Canucks settled on keeping Demko and letting Markstrom walk, which I think is a good move, but more on that later.
16. The heavy lifting is done. The Canucks have a core that’s young, fast, and exciting. They know that core can win in the playoffs, and the focus now needs to be on surrounding those core pieces with some secondary scoring help. The heavy lifting of the rebuild is done, and the time to compete is now.
17. The time to compete is now. On that note, the Canucks proved they have what it takes to make the playoffs, and compete once they get there. Fans, ownership, and everybody in between should be expecting this team to make the playoffs from here on out. There are no excuses for taking a step in the wrong direction, and fans shouldn’t be willing to accept any, either.
18. Travis Green hates playing defencemen on their off-side but might have to next year. Technically we’ve known this for a while now, but what we recently learned during this offseason is that Travis Green will likely be forced to have a first or second pairing that features two left handed defencemen thanks to the addition of Nate Schmidt. Thankfully, Schmidt is comfortable playing his off-side, but is Green comfortable letting him?!
19. The Canucks needed to improve their blueline most of all this offseason. When you’re a team looking to contend, you need to improve your team year after year. It’s no secret the Canucks’ biggest weaknesses this year were their defence and bottom six forward group. These both need to be addressed, but I’d give the edge to the defence corps, and it appears the Canucks did the same.
20. Olli Juolevi looks close. He only played one playoff game, but Olli Juolevi looked good at training camp, in scrimmages, and even in that one game he got at the NHL level. Granted, he played in an extremely sheltered role, but he did the little things correctly, and looks as though he could develop into a competent bottom pairing defenceman as soon as next year.
21. Dekey Pete has got dekes. Maybe I’m cheating a little with this one since Pettersson made it known to Canucks fans right from day one that he has insane hands. Really, number 44 on our list is just an excuse for me to tell you to enjoy this montage of some of Dekey Pete’s slickest dekes so far:
Today is a good day for a mix of Elias Pettersson doing his dekes and breaking people's ankles pic.twitter.com/FG3Mjcqkcq
— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) October 22, 2020
22. Travis Green uses analytics a lot. Credit to Harman Dayal of The Athletic for getting another known lover of the media, Travis Green, to open up about his frequent use of analytics. It was a fascinating read and a very telling interview that told us a lot about the way Green coaches and understands the game. Which leads me to my next point…
23. Travis Green isn’t the problem. An NHL head coach will likely never get approval from everybody but this season made it clear that Green is the right coach for this team. He’s paid his dues in the minors and has grown with this young core. He embraces analytics and has the ability to get the most out of his players. Even when the players at his disposal were subpar, the Canucks in recent years have always had the reputation of being extremely hard working, which is a testament to the way Green coaches.
24. Vasili Podkolzin is going to be very good. Hopefully, they find a way to make the World Juniors happen this year, because Canucks fans are going to fall in love with Vasili Podkolzin if they haven’t already. The Russian winger was the Canucks’ first round selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and the early signs have shown that he’s going to be a player who meshes perfectly with the way Canucks fans, coaches, and players want their team to play.
You’ve likely heard it already, but Podkolzin never takes a shift off, is a monster on the backcheck and the forecheck, and has all the tools to be an effective two way forward at the NHL level.
25. Podkolzin can come to the Canucks as early as late February, and as late as April. Should Podkolzin’s KHL team not go too deep in the playoffs (don’t count on that) he’ll be able to help the Canucks hunt down a playoff spot late in the season, but won’t be eligible to compete in said playoffs, per the NHL’s rules.
26. Nils Hoglander is showing all the signs of becoming an NHL player. On the topic of prospects, Chris Faber wrote an excellent piece on the trajectory of the Canucks’ two top prospects, and outlined what a breakout season would look like for each of them. Nils Hoglander’s has already shown off his next-level creativity with the puck, but his early projections from the SHL preseason are showing he has an almost surefire chance of becoming an NHL player, and about a 35% chance of becoming a top six forward.
27. The flying skate jersey is one of the best in the league. The Canucks’ black flying skate alternate jerseys is not only a favourite among the Canucks’ players, but of hockey fans in general. The Adidas version they unveiled and wore for four games this year was extremely popular and was one of the best jerseys worn by any NHL team this year.
28. Thatcher Demko purchased real estate in the Vegas Golden Knights’ heads. The Canucks may have lost the battle, but they won the war against the Vegas Golden Knights. That may be a reach, but when Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer was asked about his team’s lack of finish against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final, he attributed it in part to Demko.
29. Chris Tanev is a warrior. He went down the tunnel after suffering an injury in Winnipeg then — as if he were the Undertaker shooting to an upright seated position after you thought for sure he was done — Tanev came back out and played in the game. Then he went back down the tunnel AGAIN, and then he came back AGAIN. His teammates praised him postgame and this was a true statement to Tanev’s willingness to do anything he can to help his team win.
30. The Canucks need their bottom six to be better. The Canucks’ bottom six rarely contributed at the offensive end of the ice, and were regularly hemmed in their own end for extended periods of time. When you look at the team’s competing for the Stanley Cup, you see third and fourth lines who come up big and help push their team over the hump. The Canucks don’t have that quite yet, and could use some help in that department.
31. The Canucks need to play better team defence. They began to play better defence in front of Thatcher Demko during the series against Vegas, but on the season, the Canucks were a bottom-five defensive team in the league. That’s just not good enough, and if the Canucks want to be a legit contender in the near future, they’ll need to commit to playing better defence going forward.
32. Nils Hoglander can come to Vancouver in December. The training camp and regular season schedules are subject to change, but Nils Hoglander will have options when he decides to come to Vancouver in December when his loan with Rogle in the SHL is up.
33. Podkolzin is NHL ready. I’ve talked to multiple scouts who have said that Podkolzin could have stepped in right after he was drafted and been effective at the NHL level. From what I’ve watched myself and read from Chris Faber — who watches every single game Podkolzin plays in — this kid could be a massive boost to the Canucks’ bottom six right now. Think Tyler Motte’s hustle and defensive ability, but with much more offensive skill. Podkolzin is NHL ready, and quite frankly, anybody telling you otherwise is almost certainly looking at Podkolzin’s hockeyDB page and not watching his games, sorry.
34. Chris Tanev blocked eight shots in his last game as a Canuck. Not only is 8 Chris Tanev’s jersey numbers, it’s also the highest number of blocked shots he’s ever put together in a playoff game and he did it in his final game as a Canuck.
35. Francesco Aquilini isn’t changing the seat colour. Ahead of the celebratory season, Aquilini hopped on Sportsnet650, where he was asked about changing the seat colours at Rogers Arena, which are currently burgundy. He said comfort is the most important thing to him when it comes to the seats, and essentially shut the colour change idea down right away. Sorry Stanch.
36. The lighting at Rogers Arena is good. On the topic of Rogers Arena, the lighting at Rogers Arena got an upgrade and the biggest difference was the playing surface was extremely well lit while the crowd was much dimmer than they were under the old lights.
37. Arturs Silovs looked exceptional at the first training camp in Victoria. He’s a raw project goalie with a ton of upside, but Arturs Silovs caught the eye of many with his play at the first training camp the Canucks held last year in Victoria. He’s now playing in Latvia (on loan) and I’ll be keeping an eye on his progress overseas.
38. The Canucks are being smarter with their money. This is a no brainer, as the Canucks’ decisions this offseason (see Jayce Hawryluk, letting Markstrom and Tanev walk, keeping the Gaudette contract low, signing Holtby at a low cost, etc). Now, if it’s too little too late is a whole other debate, but for now, it looks like the Canucks are finally planning for their future effectively, something they hadn’t done a good job of in offseasons past.
39. The Canucks needed to get better at moving the puck out of their own end. What the Vegas Golden Knights’ forecheckers did against the Canucks in the second round was at times tough to watch. The Canucks struggled mightily to break the puck out of their own end and move the puck up the ice in transition, and Vegas exposed that part of their game.
40. The Canucks became better at moving the puck out of their own end this offseason. Quinn Hughes couldn’t do it alone, so the Canucks went out and traded for an elite puck-mover in Nate Schmidt, and all of a sudden should become better in transition.
41. The Canucks got worse in goal, but could just start playing defence to offset it. The Canucks played much better defence against Vegas, which is partly why Demko was able to do what he did. They did their best to keep east-west puck movement to a minimum, which is what they’ll need to do for a longer period of time now that Markstrom is no longer there to bail them out.
42. Braden Holtby should perform well in the Canucks’ defensive environment. They’ll no doubt want to play better defence in front of him next season, but Braden Holtby is coming out of the worst defensive environment in the entire league. That’s right, the Washington Capitals were the worst defensive team in the entire league last season, and Holtby had the lowest expected save percentage in the league as a result. He did much better than would be expected playing in that environment, but he’s used to facing plenty of shots from high-danger areas, so he should fit right in with the Canucks’ system, or lack thereof.
43. Canucks fans are generous people. It was very heartwarming to see the Canucks community come together and donate money to the Botchford family after they lost Jason last year. Similarly, Canucks fans have raised over $10,000 for Canucks fan Dave Noordam, who is battling cancer currently. I wrote a story about Dave a few weeks back and you can read it here. You can donate here.
44. Jack Rathbone is very good. Undoubtedly the Canucks’ best defence prospect, getting Harvard defenceman Jack Rathbone signed is a big win for the Canucks. We also learned from multiple scouts and reports done on Rathbone that he is very good at hockey and could battle for that third pairing spot alongside Olli Juolevi next season.
45. Tyler Motte has become an unlikely fan favourite. Many people weren’t even sure he’d make the team last season, but with a never-quit attitude on the ice that was especially apparent in the playoffs and a down to earth persona off of it, Tyler Motte has become an unlikely fan favourite. Motte opened up about his battle with depression
46. Canucks fans have forgiven Ryan Kesler. Ahead of the Sedins jersey retirement night, Ryan Kesler was asked about the potential of Canucks fans once again booing him as they did toward the end of his career when he was a member of the Anaheim Ducks. They say time heals all wounds, which must be true in this case, because Kesler got one of the loudest and longest cheers of the entire night.
47. Kevin Bieksa is a natural behind a mic. Speaking of the Sedins jersey retirement night, former Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa did a fantastic job hosting the event. He was cracking jokes, telling stories, and did all of it from memory, which was perhaps most impressive of all. To follow it all up, Bieksa burst onto the scene with the HNIC crew during the playoffs, and it became clear that he’s a natural when he gets behind a mic.
48. Sven Baertschi was given up on after training camp. The organization doesn’t view Sven Baertschi as a player they can win with in the playoffs, and I’d honestly be shocked if he ever suits up for the Canucks again (barring a plethora of injuries in the top six, of course).
49. Brogan Rafferty could be a nice find from the NCAA. He looked solid in the two games he appeared in at the end of the 2018-19 season, and he had an all-star worthy season down in the AHL this year.
50. Jason Botchford’s legacy will forever live on. I was lucky enough to be selected by Jason Botchford’s wife, Kat, to be the first recipient of The Botchford Project, which was an invaluable experience for me. I don’t want to plug my own article that I wrote from the night, rather, I’d like to turn your attention to Chris Faber’s, who wrote about how Botch changed everything in Vancouver. Botch’s legacy will forever live on in this market.
It’s here! My #BotchfordProject article:
“How Jason Botchford changed everything in Vancouver”
is now available. ❤️❤️
I wrote about my idol Jason Botchford and heard thoughts from players and his fellow media members he would deal with on a daily basis.https://t.co/5gI2jaUUVv
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🤙🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) February 28, 2020