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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: What the next week means for the Vancouver Canucks, Horvat’s ceiling, and what’s caused the slow start?

Another week, another mailbag.

It’s been a hectic week for the Vancouver Canucks, and I don’t think we’ve received this many questions for a mailbag in well over a year.

With that being said, let’s get into it and see what you wonderful people asked this week!

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There’s a lot more of these types of questions, and rightfully so.

Everybody is on the hot seat right now. Travis Green is currently a lame-duck head coach, and talk of Jim Benning’s job being in jeopardy dominated the discourse this weekend, and I’m not just talking about on Twitter, as it has numerous times during the past seven years since Benning’s been on the job.

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No, I’m talking about the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. Brian Burke, who is well-connected in the industry, said that Benning is under “tremendous pressure”. Further, here is what Thomas Drance and Harman Dayal of The Athletic had to add:

It’s pretty rare that early-season struggles like what the Canucks are enduring would create this level of public pressure on an NHL general manager. Usually, the first ax falls on the head coach.

This is a weird year, though. And within the industry itself, Burke’s comments match the increasing chatter, speculation and interest — one could even call them rumblings, centring on some of the usual careerist suspects — about how secure Benning might be if the Canucks’ early-season scuffles continue, or accelerate.

Benning’s seat legitimately appears like it might be starting to get hot.

Additionally, Satiar Shah of Sportsnet 650 joined Chris Faber and I on episode 130 of Canucks Conversation and said the following:

“There is internal pressure here. If they play another embarrassing game on Saturday and the Sens series doesn’t go well something could give. Pressure will mount and management may have to pay a price if this team doesn’t start winning games. I do think someone in the front office might have to pay a price. With Benning, you see how fans are reacting to it. Francesco is very attuned to what people are saying. He will get frustrated at some point.”

All of the information out there right now appears to indicate that Benning would be the first domino to fall, should the Canucks continue to struggle.

That being said, a series win against the Senators in commanding fashion is likely enough to buy everybody in the organization at least another couple of weeks before hitting the panic button.

Sure, it’s a best-case scenario, but maybe the practice held yesterday morning is all this team needs to get going once again without looking back.

It’s early still, and while their recent play indicates they’ll be in tough to turn things around, stranger things have happened.

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They have a serious chance to make up some ground against the team who many believed to be the worst team in the North Division this week.

But if things don’t turn around this week? Oh boy, it could get ugly in Canuck land.

As for what’s causing the Canucks’ recent bad stretch of play, there are a few things to attribute it to, and it goes beyond them having to dress inexperienced defencemen.

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Their stars (other than Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser of course) haven’t been firing on all cylinders early on and it’s costing them.

It’s no secret the Canucks are a team reliant on their top six, and when their top six isn’t going offensively, it’s tough for them to generate much offence.

Aside from that, they’re just making too many mistakes and giving up the puck at costly times. Most of all, they need to play better team defence as a five-man unit. There were just far too many high danger scoring chances against Holtby and Demko during this series against Montreal.

The goaltenders have been fine, maybe even good, but their numbers would suggest they’ve been abysmal.

Clear Sight Analytics’ data shows a bit of a clearer picture:

The Canucks gave up an absurd 33 high danger scoring chances to the Habs over these three games, 14 of which beat their goaltenders.

At the other end, the Canucks generated nine high danger scoring chances, five of which found their way past two of the best goaltenders in the division.

That’s just not good enough defence and allowing your goalies to face that many shots in tight is simply unacceptable, and the players know that.

They’re hurting at the defence position with Hamonic out and Hughes not playing up to the level we’ve seen from him before, but the forward group needs to focus more on defending as a five-man unit if they hope to turn things around.

If you’re looking for a bright spot to start the season, look no further than captain Bo Horvat.

“I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team win,” said Horvat after Sunday’s practice. “I’ll keep leading by example and try to pull guys into the fight with me… eventually things are going to turn around.”

It seems few Canucks are wanting to go into the fight with Horvat, except for Nils Hoglander of course, who goes into every fight with a 110% effort, despite his smaller stature.

As for Horvat, the captain has gotten off to a torrid start to the season and currently leads the league in goals with five. Close behind him is Brock Boeser — who has also looked exceptional to begin the new season — with four.

And honestly, I’m timid about coming out and declaring this is the best Horvat can play, because every time somebody sets a ceiling for him, Horvat busts right through it and exceeds all expectations.

He’s been doing it his whole career and will absolutely tell you he still has another level, and at this point, why wouldn’t you believe him?

Whether that’s further developing his two-way game or continuing to put up points, Horvat will always be looking to improve his game and find another level.

I do know that the Canucks players weren’t happy about the offseason departures, I can confirm that much.

“A lot of guys were big pieces and it was shocking to me,” said J.T. Miller back in November. “We proved that we were right there and on the cusp of being close to winning. Now, it’s a bit of a reboot and obviously they’re putting a lot of faith in the younger guys. There are jobs to be won and good, healthy competition. But we do have good, young talented players who can take over our team at a very young age.”

“It did take me a while to get over that,” said Horvat prior to the season starting. “It still does. It was weird not seeing them at camp, especially Tanny and Marky after playing with them for six years. It’s tough not having those guys in the room and on the ice with you, especially after the (playoff) bubble where you played together so hard and did whatever it took for one another. I wouldn’t say I was angry, maybe a little bit confused. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. Stuff like this is going to happen in hockey. And I think the guys we brought in are amazing. They are going to fill that void. I talked to Beags about Holtby and Schmidt and he raved about them.”

It’s clear the moves were just as shocking to the players as they were to outside observers.

Have they quit on management? That seems like a bit much and I’d be lying if I said I knew the definitive answer, but do with those quotes what you will.

That’s all for this week, folks! Thanks for reading and asking questions! To ask a question in a future mailbag, be sure to follow me on Twitter @QuadreIli and keep an eye out for the weekly mailbag tweet.