11 observations from the Vancouver Canucks’ 2022-23 season
Photo credit:© Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
7 months ago
The Canucks 2022-23 season has, mercifully, come to an end. Now what?
It’s time to assess the best and worst parts of this season and how it’ll affect the team next year and beyond.
It’s not how you finish, it’s how you start
Apparently, starting the season on a seven-game losing streak wasn’t the best choice. Shocking, I know.
By mid-November, the Canucks were already sitting in a 4-9-3 hole. When Bruce Boudreau was finally let go in late January, the team was 18-25-3, and up until March’s trade deadline, Rick Tocchet more or less maintained that pace.
By that point, the Canucks were clearly out of the playoff picture. So naturally that’s when they decided to go out and win 14 of their final 21 games, sewering their draft position in the process.
If that all sounds familiar, it’s because the 2021-22 Canucks did basically the exact same thing. But surely they won’t repeat this all again next year, right?
Elias Pettersson is a superstar
Remember how management was pretty cagey about calling Elias Pettersson a superstar last season? He clearly took that personally, because he had the best offensive season of his career.
Pettersson’s 102 points were twenty points better than the next-closest scorer (J.T. Miller at 82) and his quest to crack the century mark was pretty much the only reason worth watching the Canucks over the final month of the season.
Petey’s rise has opened the door to the possibility of he and Quinn Hughes dragging a future team into the playoffs singlehandedly. But hopefully better roster construction will make it so they won’t need to.
But one thing’s for certain: whenever he signs his next contract extension, Elias Pettersson is going to get PAID.
Quinn Hughes is already the best defenceman in Canucks history
If last season was the initial evidence, this year cemented Quinn Hughes’ place as the best defenceman the Canucks have ever had.
With his record-breaking 76-point season, Hughes now owns both of the two best scoring seasons by a Canucks blue liner. His defensive game also took another leap forward this year, making him so crucial to Rick Tocchet’s game plan that the coach ended up playing him close to half a game on a nightly basis.
No defender in this team’s 52-season history has made as massive an impact
The sky is truly the limit for the 23-year-old.
Thatcher Demko is irreplaceable (for now)
Let’s be clear. No one is replacing Thatcher Demko any time soon. Arturs Silovs might someday, but for now, this is still clearly Demko’s net.
Thatcher Demko’s atrocious start to the season, coupled with the early December injury that put him out of action until late February, exposed the Canucks‘ reliance on requiring All-Star goaltending to win games.
Demko was able to return to form after returning from his injury and pushed his save percentage back over the .900 mark in the last month and a half. But the Canucks need to find a way to prevent a repeat next year, either by bolstering their backup options, or just solidifying their defence.
The roster NEEDS to get faster
From day one, Ilya Mikheyev was far and away the Canucks’ speediest player. Sure, sometimes his brain had a hard time keeping up with his legs, but it was clear from the get-go how much faster he was than the rest of his teammates.
As it later turned out, Mikheyev had done all that while playing on a torn ACL, which just goes to show you how badly the Canucks need faster players at their disposal.
A lack of speed has been a major issue for the Canucks for a long time, and it keeps burning them against the NHL’s highest-flying offences like the Oilers, Golden Knights and Devils. The faster you are as a team, the easier it is to win puck battles, draw penalties and recover from mistakes. If the team can add a few more Mikheyev types through the draft or free agency, it could set them up in a much better place.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is not one of the Canucks’ best six defencemen
So… did everyone else notice how much better the Canucks defence looked after they were forced to replace Oliver Ekman-Larsson with the next guy up?
Ekman-Larsson was a major liability in his own end all season, and that only became clearer as AHL call-ups and college signings took turns in his place. Akito Hirose, Christian Wolanin and Noah Juulsen weren’t flawless at shutting down chances, but all of them were a clear upgrade on the Canucks’ second highest paid blue liner.
So what do you do? A buyout is an option, but it’s a route the team should try and avoid if they can. Maybe the Coyotes are looking for money to launder while they wait for their Tempe arena to get built?
Brock Boeser is still one of the Canucks’ best forwards
While everyone was concerned about Brock Boeser no longer being the sniper he once was, he quietly became one of the Canucks best playmakers.
Boeser put up a 55-point season despite playing a smaller role than in previous years and being at the centre of trade rumours for months. Whether by choice or a lack of interested partners, the Canucks were wise to hang onto him until his stock improved.
Does Boeser’s final point total change how the team feels about him? Likely not, but at least now they’d be more likely to get real market value for him.
Rick Tocchet did just fine
The Canucks definitely looked more structured and defensively sound under Rick Tocchet than they did with Bruce Boudreau. The additions of Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar to the coaching staff seems to have paid off thus far as well.
But again, we saw a big late season boost after the last coaching change too. And a lot of the same concerns from 2021-22 remain, as proven by Tocchet questioning his team’s preparedness a couple weeks ago like both Boudreau and Travis Green had before him.
Which Canucks team was the real one: the one that lost with regularity from October to February, or the team that played from March on? Hopefully it’s the latter.
Don’t buy at the deadline when you’re in the bottom six
I know some of you are probably tired of hearing about this, but it’s so unbelievable it needs to be repeated: at their lowest point in the standings, the Canucks paid a first and a second round pick for a defenceman who’d only play four games for them this season.
The trade deadline is always the most expensive time of the year to acquire players, but the Canucks chased a midseason deal for Filip Hronek anyway. Hronek is clearly a good defenceman, and did fine in his only week of games before injuries shut him down for the year. But there was no good reason to make that trade at the deadline instead of waiting until the offseason.
Waiting until the draft in June would’ve not only made it easier to acquire Hronek for a cheaper price, but the Canucks also would’ve had the cost certainty of knowing where all their draft picks sit before trading them.
Hopefully those seven points they added with Hronek on the ice won’t come back to haunt them in the draft lottery!
Whether you’re Team Playoffs or Team Tank, this season sucked
Let’s not beat around the bush. This season went terribly in every single way.
For the second year in a row, the Canucks managed to destroy their playoff chances before the calendar had even turned to 2023, and then successfully ruined their draft lottery odds in the last month of the season too.
They actively took steps to sacrifice present for future by trading Bo Horvat, then doubled back almost immediately at the trade deadline. The front office talked a big game about the team needing major surgery, which apparently meant only trading one major player and a couple of depth guys.
But the on-ice problems pale in comparison to everything off of it. The Rachel Doerrie situation. A locker room renovation that wasn’t finished on time for the season. Jim Rutherford publicly criticizing Bruce Boudreau’s coaching, then forcing him to stay behind the bench for over a month even though everyone knew he was a dead man walking.
Just about everything that happened this season was an unmitigated disaster. But maybe there’s a silver lining; after all, when you hit rock bottom, the only place left to go is up.
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