Murphy’s Law supposedly holds that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. If that’s the case, then the Vancouver Canucks are currently experiencing Murphy’s Season (and, no, we’re not talking about Dan).
Whether it be the season’s late start, its middling results, or the current viral crisis that has rendered all on-ice concerns secondary, 2021 has heaped disappointment upon disappointment on the Canucks and their fans. It’s a year we’ll probably always remember, even if we’d all rather forget it.
So, let’s start polishing up those memories with a little retroactive optimism, shall we?
As bad as the 2021 season has been and continues to be, there’s still plenty of good that has already come out of it.
Here are 21 storylines that you can feel good about, now and in the future.
Money for nothing and your Schmidts for free
The transaction that brought Nate Schmidt to Vancouver came late on October 12, 2020, which was close on the calendar to the 2019/20 season than this one, but we’re going to count it anyway. Though reviews on Schmidt have been mixed, he’s undoubtedly a capable top-four defender that has improved the overall quality of the Canucks blueline, and Jim Benning nabbed him for the scant price of a third round pick — a third round pick in 2022, no less.
Schmidt was a much-needed bargain addition in an offseason dominated by loss.
Vasily Podkolzin takes (C)ommand at the WJC
Before the Canucks hit the ice, several of their prospects were busy in other leagues around the world, and at the World Junior Championships. There, Podkolzin earned major accolades, not just for his four points in seven games, but especially for his strong leadership qualities. Several times, Podkolzin was caught on camera calling the play or rallying his teammates during a timeout while coach/agent Igor Larionov looked on with pride.
Arvid Costmar bothers Podkolzin, impresses everyone else at WJC
Another Vancouver prospect made a bit of a name for themselves at the WJC, and they did it in part by pissing off Podkolzin. Heading into the season, Costmar wasn’t considered a shoo-in for Team Sweden by any measure, but he played important minutes for them down the middle and showed some serious shutdown skill on Podkolzin and others.
— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 31, 2020
Olli Juolevi finally makes the team, immediately shuts up Tkachuk
Fans have been waiting since the summer of 2016 for Juolevi to make the team and make good on his lofty draft position. Since then, they’ve had to get intimately familiar with Matthew Tkachuk, Juolevi’s London teammate drafted one spot after who has quickly become a thorn in the side of, well, pretty much everyone.
After a sneaky trip, Olli Juolevi responds by dropping Matthew Tkachuk pic.twitter.com/jaHUmtDmx2
— Harman Dayal (@harmandayal2) February 14, 2021
Juolevi being in the October 13 opening night lineup was satisfying. Seeing him personally shut down Tkachuk a few nights later was downright cathartic.
Nils Höglander arrives, challenges the NHL’s alphabet
What more can be said about Höglander that hasn’t already been said? He arrived in training camp pencilled into the Utica Comets’ lineup for some supposedly-necessary North American seasoning; within days he was uncuttable. Against all odds and punditry, Höglander has stepped straight from the SHL into a middle-six role that he’ll be able to equal or better for years to come, and it’s at the point already where he has to be considered at least on the fringe of the core. Best of all, that underdoggedness also translated directly into Höglander’s gutsy and endearing playstyle.
— Matt (@dooley_matt_) March 2, 2021
That he hasn’t yet completed a lacrosse goal at the NHL level is a positive storyline in and of itself, because you just know it’s coming and it’s always nice to have something to look forward to.
The Canucks (temporarily) waive goodbye to Loui Eriksson
Look, we don’t want to use this silver linings article to diss anyone. That seems counterproductive. So, we’ll word this one very carefully.
Those fans who had grown dissatisfied with the performance of Eriksson over the past few years got a real thrill when they checked the waiver placements for January 11, 2021, and saw his name listed there. If you were one of those people, you know exactly the feeling we’re talking about.
And if you’re an Eriksson supporter… well, at least you can be glad that he cleared the very next day!
John Garrett goes au naturel
After going without them for so long, just having John and John back in the booth was a well-deserved treat. The wonderful surprise of John Garrett coming out with the “silver fox” look and absolutely nailing it was the ketchup on top.
Ownership meddling that we can actually enjoy
This will be our one controversial entry.
Francesco Aquilini got his hands-on start on the 2021 season back in December with that infamous “former Canucks anthem singer” tweet.
From there on out, his Twitter activity became decidedly less popular, until he decided to step in on February 13 to set the record straight on some personnel-related rumours.
I have full confidence in Jim, Travis, and this group. I have no plans to make changes. #WeAreAllCanucks
— Francesco Aquilini (@fr_aquilini) February 14, 2021
Aquilini’s vote of confidence seemed to have a short-term impact, with the Canucks picking up five of the next six points. Four straight losses would follow, but that’s neither here nor there.
Thatcher Demko snatches the starting job for good…
The Canucks bet big on Demko by letting Jacob Markstrom go to market, and they did it primarily on the strength of Demko’s three-game dynamism in the 2020 playoff bubble. Thankfully, Demko started adding to his starter’s résumé with a 2021 performance that put to bed any notion of him sharing the crease with Braden Holtby. Now he’s arguably on the Vezina radar.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) March 23, 2021
…and then puts it in writing
Demko’s continued emergence was made all the sweeter when he inked a five-year, $25 million extension on March 31, just hours before the Canucks went on hiatus. We’ve already broken down how Demko’s deal will pay him below the current average rate for a starting goaltender for all five years; fair value now and a probable bargain in the near future. Cost certainty and crease certainty are two important things in hockey, and now the Canucks have both.
Brock Boeser bounces back big, and it’s beautiful
Last season, Boeser’s 16 goals in 57 games had more than a few fickle fans questioning whether he’d “lost it.” This season, he’s already equalled that total in 20 fewer games, and that’s only one component in a campaign that has been less about bouncing back and more about evolution.
At the hiatus, Boeser led the team in goals and points and was hotly contesting MVP honours with Demko. Combined with a well-rounded defensive game and a newfound reputation for consistency, Boeser’s simply on another level — and nobody’s talking about trading him now.
Zack MacEwen pummels those who we all want to see pummelled
The issue of fighting in hockey is a complicated and multifaceted one, but if it’s going to happen, you’d still rather your fighter come out on top. Enter MacEwen, who has been effective in 2021; gloves on or off. Whether he be avenging Höglander against Derek Forbort or laying a thumping on Brady Tkachuk, MacEwen has a real knack for punching those who need to be punched, and that’s hard not to admire.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) January 29, 2021
Travis Hamonic finds a home in more ways than one
If you’ve followed Hamonic’s personal story at all, you know what a feel-good moment it was just to have him find a place in Western Canada where he can continue to play hockey for a living. His 2021 didn’t get off to an ideal start with an early injury, but since his return he’s steadied the Vancouver blueline and, in particular, frequent partner Quinn Hughes.
Now it looks likely that Hamonic will land another contract with the Canucks, and it’s hard not to root for him.
A cost-efficient bottom-six begins to take shape
Just like the Canucks’ bottom-six, we’re short on space, so we’re going to lump a whole bunch of positivity into this one entry. A number of fringe players made noise and earned minutes in 2021, hopefully setting the pace for a cost-effective bottom-six in years to come. Justin Bailey and Jayce Hawryluk stood out for their stellar advanced stats, Jimmy Vesey impressed after a waiver claim from Toronto, and Travis Boyd almost made it into a game.
Higher up the depth chart, Tyler Motte continued where he’d left off in the playoffs, increasing the likelihood he’s protected in the upcoming Expansion Draft.
Jack Rathbone taxis off to Utica and explodes for a three-point debut
Rathbone putting pen to paper just before his signing window closed was a nice little offseason win that coupled neatly with a standout showing in training camp; but then Rathbone went to the taxi squad and sat there for a month-and-a-half before finally being assigned to Utica, where he immediately made up for lost time. Rathbone notched three assists in his debut and another two points across his next three games before the Comets hit a hiatus of their own.
Now that they’re back on the ice, we’ll get to see whether he can maintain that coveted point-per-game status in the long run.
Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich strongarm their way up the depth chart
Speaking of the Utica Comets, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Lind and Gadjovich, two rough-and-tumble picks from the 2017 Entry Draft that have dominated in the youth-oriented AHL and subsequently seen their stock shoot through the ceiling.
— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) February 13, 2021
Lining up as the Comets’ top center, Lind had eight points in eight games, a strong start that has some in Vancouver already pencilling him in to the 3C slot for 2021/22. Gadjovich, meanwhile, has come out of nowhere to post a preposterous eight goals in nine games. Both are angling for time with the Canucks sooner rather than later.
Expansion cousin Buffalo ensures the Canucks look good by comparison
As bad as it gets for the Canucks in 2021, they can take solace in the fact that they’ll still be the top-performing team from the 1970 expansion class. That’s because their expansion cousins, the Buffalo Sabres, are hard at work putting up a historically dismal season. After an 18-game losing streak, the Sabres have finally managed to eke their point-percentage above .300, but they’ve still got a long way to go to catch the Canucks — and that’s saying something.
Even better, if you’re into schadenfreude, is that Buffalo has almost certainly alienated their franchise center along the way.
The Calgary Canucks flame out
Speaking of schadenfreude, there’s nothing that assuages the pain of the Vancouver fanbase quite like the suffering of the Calgary Flames. That’s true in an ordinary year, but their current struggles come after an offseason in which they poached several beloved Canucks and copped their best colour scheme for their Reverse Retros.
To see the Flames still below the Canucks in the North Division standings even after Vancouver’s two-weeks-off-and-counting is nothing short of soothing. Sure, it’s only a battle for fifth place — but it’s a battle the Canucks are winning!
With no 2021 inductees, Hockey Hall of Fame gets set for an all-Canuck special in 2022
The Hockey Hall of Fame quietly announced in January that it would not be inducting a 2021 class. And while that decision may have delayed the celebrations in Vancouver, it also compensated by heightening them.
Having retired in 2018, Daniel and Henrik Sedin were slam-dunks for inclusion in the class of 2021. Now, they’ll have to share with the 2019 retirees, including another slam-dunk with significant ties to the Canucks: Roberto Luongo. As far as NHL players are concerned, 2022 could be an all-Canucks special for the HHOF — though there’s a fair chance Henrik Zetterberg shows up to spoil the party.
Also worth celebrating in 2022? Luongo’s departure from the Canucks’ salary cap.
All draft picks present and accounted for…
We don’t yet know when, how, or if the Canucks are going to conclude the 2021 season — on the ice, at least. Off the ice, they’re sure to conclude with the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, and they’ll be heading towards it with their full complement of picks, for once.
And, given the current circumstances and barring some movement closer to draft day, they’ll be keeping them and using them, too.
…and the NHL might have accidentally helped the Canucks get a higher pick, to boot
Those same draft picks are almost guaranteed to be in the upper range of their respective rounds, as per the Canucks’ position in the standings. They may even end up higher than Vancouver fans have become accustomed to, because the NHL announced changes to the Draft Lottery in late March just in time to actually help out the Canucks — though they would have been even more useful a few years ago.
The Draft Lottery is now down to two picks instead of three, and teams can only move up a maximum of ten spaces, meaning there’s increased stability for those near the bottom and five fewer teams in the running for first overall.
Ergo, there’s thus a way better chance that the Canucks will either draft where they’re supposed to — or even move up, if you can believe it — instead of sliding back like they usually do.
If anything, it’s clear evidence that Vancouver’s difficulties in 2021 have come as a surprise to everyone, even those in the NHL’s front office. Otherwise, there’s no way they would have implemented these changes until after the Canucks were tucked safely back into the playoffs, because there’s no way they’d ever help the Canucks’ chances on purpose.