Welcome back to WWYDW, the only hockey column on the internet that doesn’t take holidays off.
Though we’re sure you’ve noticed, we’ll remind you that the CanucksArmy crew has been hard at work cranking out some player previews for the 2021 season, letting you in on our highest hopes and worst fears as they pertain to each individual Canuck heading into next season.
For most of us, and presumably most of you out there in the fanbase, the hopes heavily outweigh the fears. The Canucks are, after all, a team firmly on the upswing, and forward momentum isn’t just expected, it’s practically demanded after so many lean rebuilding years.
But that doesn’t mean that the 2021 season will be all sunshine and rainbows. The Canucks are playing in what promises to be an ultra-competitive All-Canadian Division, the roster has been shaken up by several key departures, and regression looks at least possible for a handful of important players.
We generally tend toward positivity in this column, but today we’re asking for pessimism, and we’re asking you to provide it, because we want to know:
What are your biggest worries heading into the 2021 season?
(Ideally, we’re talking Vancouver Canucks-related worries, but if you need to unburden yourself further, feel free!)
Are the Canucks better or worse heading into 2021 than they were at the close of 2019/20?
Your responses were low in quantity, but high in quality, and are listed below.
Somewhat worse. The loss of Tanev, Stecher, Leivo, Toffoli, Markstrom, and probably Ferland has only partially been made up for. I can only see the Canucks being better if some rookies hit the ground running. That’s a lot to ask.
(Winner of the author’s weekly award for eloquence/Welcome to the party!)
As a new fan, I have nothing to compare to. That puts my optimism at an all-time high. I try to live my sports life by a quote from the great Peter LaFleur from the movie Dodgeball, “I found that if you have a goal, that you might not reach it. But if you don’t have one, then you are never disappointed. And I gotta tell ya… it feels phenomenal.”
With that being said, the young core has to be among the most elite in the league, but the blue line depth seems to be concerning. How long is the season? Shorter season could have its disadvantages if we’re playing back-to-backs. If there’s something I do know, never count out a young talented team that is expected to take a step back.
It comes down to goaltending and rookies.
Can Demko capture even a fraction of the playoff magic? Hopefully, but he dif have the pedigree and trajectory of a #1 goalie before that. He also has a great goaltending coach. If he and Holtby can step up, the loss of Markstrom will be minimal.
Rookies are another question mark. Rafferty lit it up in his first AHL season and was one of the league’s top offensive D. Can he play at the NHL level? Seems realistic. Can either OJ or Rathbone step up and be effective on the bottom pair? It would seem to me that, given the age and pedigree of these three, that at least one of them will emerge as a nice addition to boost the depth. Lots of question marks there, but I like the odds.
Then we look at the core. It’s obviously on a steep upward trajectory. Hughes and Pettersson are elite talents that haven’t reached their prime. If Boeser is healthy then he should progress, given his age, as well. Boeser was on track to become a 40-goal scorer and had an off year. If he gets back on track, that’s a huge boost.
All in all, it comes down to the internal improvements being a large factor. Question marks around the three young D fighting for a spot and the new tandem in net. Lots of uncertainty, but my guess is the team gets at minimum satisfactory goaltending, one of the young D emerges, and Schmidt and the young core impress. That leaves the team with results ranging from on par with last season to a nice step forward.
For me, it doesn’t matter much if they are slightly better or slightly worse, this team is going through some long-awaited changes from a slew of vets to what hopefully becomes a chance for several youth to step up and take a regular roster spot. As well as for some to even get a legitimate shot at being a fill-in.
As it sits right now, we know at least two of seven defensemen will be rookies, and there should be at least two getting some time up front.
Let’s see what some of these kids can do.
Lotto Line Forever:
Guess we’ll just have to find out in a little more than a month, won’t we? 😜
PS: Agreed with what @speering major said, and I think Schmidt, Juolevi, and Gaudette will be ready to surprise.
I think it’s really a push, but one that is trending up as young stars get better.
Toffoli was barely with the team and played very little in the playoffs. Leivo was injured a good part of the year. Fantenberg was a space filler. Tanev and Stecher were good, Markstrom was very good. It comes down to whether or not the good and very good players were replaced.
I’ll start with goaltending, A combo of Demko and Holtby to replace Markstrom is likely to be equal, with the potential to be better, and is unlikely to be worse, Holtby will benefit from great coaching and Demko showed brilliance in the playoffs, so I have high hopes for these guys.
On defence, this is really where the Canucks needed to improve. Between Tanev and Stecher, a lot of minutes were played. Tanev was the healthiest we have ever seen him be last year, but he was starting to show the toll that all the injuries have taken on his body. Stecher is one guy I wanted to keep because he plays with his heart on his sleeve, but he gets taken advantage of by bigger, faster players on a regular basis. In the end, Tanev has been replaced by a better player… hands down. Stecher has not. However, considering that this is a shortened season, the time is right to cycle some very talented youngster into the team. Rafferty ate up the AHL, Juolevi and Rathbone are blue chip prospects.
The wild card in all of this remains that the season has not started, and who knows what else or who else may be coming?
I expect the Canucks will be marginally better than last season. This won’t necessarily mean more wins or points however.
If we are completely honest, the Canucks weren’t really that good last season. They won games and got points where they had no business doing so. Good luck and strong goaltending made the difference of getting into the playoffs. It just isn’t probable or logical to expect the same success in the standings with a similar performance.
The Canucks have real strengths, but there are persistent weaknesses which may continue to hinder the Canucks from moving into contention. The bottom-six is really not good. I just don’t see this getting much better without improving at centre. Maybe Gaudette emerges as a well-rounded player, but that is mostly wishful thinking. If a move gets made to upgrade at centre, there are lots of internal options to improve on the wings. Roussel likely needs to lose his starting job.
Another key area is on D. The top-four are likely better. The play of rookies and injuries will dictate if the D-corps overall will improve. The play of Boeser and Virtanen are also key. One of them needs to step up, scoring 25+ goals for a first line among the best in the league. Miller and Pettersson performed at an elite level last year. Horvat also needs a winger that can handle the match-ups he will be expected to deal with.
There is something desperately wrong with Travis Green’s D-zone systems and processes. This has to be rectified.
I believe the Canucks will be better, perhaps not at the beginning of the year, but definitely at the end. If we have learned anything, bringing in younger players has jump-started the team to new heights. Hogs and Olli will help with the third line and PK while a guy like Pods will be a welcome sight in the spring.
I also believe that Schmidt makes the top-four a lot better. Myers plays better with Quinn, and Edler will benefit from a puck mover like Schmidt.
Ian Clark did wonders with Marky and will do a great job dialling in Holtby once again, but Demko is ready to take over the reins!