Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
5 things that need to go right for the Canucks to make the playoffs
By Noah Strang6 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks enter the 2023-24 NHL season amidst one of their worst stretches in franchise history. They have not played a playoff game in front of fans since 2014-15, making it almost a decade with no postseason play besides the COVID bubble run.
After making a few offseason additions to address last season’s struggle points and with a young core that should hopefully take another step forward, there is renewed hope that the Canucks might be contending for a playoff spot this season. It’s clear that those inside the organization, from general manager Patrik Allvin to head coach Rick Tocchet, expect to contend for the postseason.
After Tocchet took over behind the bench midway through last season, the Canucks did look much improved in some key areas (namely defensive structure and discipline) and posted a better record. However, a very similar thing could have been said about Bruce Boudreau’s experience the year before and none of that success carried into the subsequent season.
For the Canucks to make the playoffs this season, they’re going to need certain things to go their way. Here are some of the most important factors in their chase to play hockey past April.
Goaltending needs to be better than last season
While there is plenty of blame to go around for last season’s struggles, the team’s goaltending definitely did not make things easier. What has been one of the Canucks’ biggest strengths for the better part of the last fifteen years failed them and brutally exacerbated any defensive mishaps.
If the Canucks had even average goaltending last season, they would have been in a much better place. With Thatcher Demko hopefully back to full health, there is no reason to think that he won’t bounce back and finish the season as a consensus top-1o NHL goalie.
Perhaps the key to that happening will not be the play of Demko himself, but of the other goalies on the roster. Getting some solid starts from backup goalies will alleviate the pressure on the coaching staff to play Demko, hopefully keeping him rested and feeling refreshed.
The penalty kill cannot be historically bad
For much of last season, it appeared that the Canucks would be NHL record-setters. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for a very desirable record as the team was on pace to have the worst penalty kill in NHL history. A slightly better run over the second half of the season ensured that the Canucks wouldn’t go down in the history books, but they still finished dead last in the NHL.
At times, it felt like the Canucks were guaranteed to give up at least one power-play goal every game. This made it extremely difficult to win games and was a huge contributor to the terrible start to the season. This offseason, the Canucks added a couple of players with penalty-killing experience in Teddy Blueger, Carson Soucy, and Ian Cole.
They will need the new additions to chip in as well as players already on the roster to do a better job when down a man. The penalty kill doesn’t have to be amazing, but it can’t finish last again.
Ian Cole and Carson Soucy need to perform like top-four defencemen
Speaking of additions that will need to help on the penalty kill, Cole and Soucy will both need to perform like top-four defencemen for the Canucks to make the playoffs. While the Canucks don’t need them to provide much going forward, they need to be able to chew up minutes and not be defensive liabilities. It’s not a high bar to be a top-four defenceman in Vancouver right now.
Soucy has never played a full NHL season as a top-four defenceman but has shown encouraging results in a smaller role. The Canucks are betting that he can reproduce those results with more ice time against tougher competition.
For Cole, he did play in the top-four for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season.
He will need to prove that he can replicate those defensive results playing with different teammates in a new environment. Players like Jason Dickinson have recently struggled to continue their strong defensive play after moving to Vancouver’s system but with Tocchet behind the bench, the hope is that Cole will have an easier transition.
Elias Pettersson needs to once again produce like a top ten NHL talent
Last season, Elias Pettersson firmly entrenched himself as an NHL superstar. While any Canucks fan could have told you about his elite skill, the 2022-23 season was the first time that Pettersson put it together for the whole year and started to garner some serious league-wide attention.
He finished with 39 goals, 102 points, and finished seventh in voting for the Selke Trophy. He was dominant on both ends of the ice and instantly made any player he was skating with that much better. If the Canucks are going to make the playoffs this season, he’s going to need to repeat that performance.
The stars need to stay healthy
If Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko, or Elias Pettersson sustains a serious injury, the Canucks can wish their playoff hopes goodbye. These three players are crucial to the team’s success and without them, the Canucks are likely headed for another lottery finish.
There is a serious lack of depth at key positions, notably almost everywhere except on the wings, that could be seriously exposed with a major injury or two. A Canucks team that rolls out J.T. Miller as a first-line centre and Nils Aman / Teddy Blueger / Sheldon Dries as a second-line centre is not one that’s going to be competitive.
While a major injury to a star player would put a dent in most teams’ playoff hopes, the Canucks are extra vulnerable due to a lack of NHL-quality depth at most positions.
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