Faber: My 3 big questions heading into the Vancouver Canucks’ 2023-24 season
Photo credit:Vancouver Canucks
By Faber20 days ago
On Thursday’s episode of the Canucks Conversation Podcast, Quads and I spoke about five things that need to happen to get the Canucks into the playoffs next season.
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It got my mind running on some of the biggest questions for the Vancouver Canucks ahead of the 2023-24 season.
Sometimes I enjoy fleshing out an idea in an article, so here goes it.
Let’s get into my three big questions as the Canucks head into the 2023-24 season.
How much better will the penalty kill be?
From the additions that the Canucks made this offseason, it feels like the penalty kill has to improve.
And it can only improve as I’m sure you are aware by now, the Canucks’ penalty kill has been very bad in recent memory.
The Canucks have the worst penalty kill success rate over the past two seasons, coming in at 73.2% over their past 164 regular season games.
The shorthanded unit improving will certainly help the Canucks get closer to being a playoff team and as you can see from the graphic above, having a bad penalty kill unit makes it extremely difficult to have success. Only one team in the bottom 10 of the league has a better winning percentage than the Canucks and that is the Los Angeles Kings, who made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
It’s going to take more than a 3% jump in their penalty kill to make this Canucks team a playoff calibre team but they simply need to improve the shorthanded units next year to give themselves a fighting chance at a playoff spot. The additions of Teddy Blueger, Pius Suter, Ian Cole, Carson Soucy, and Filip Hronek (for a full season) will certainly help. Ilya Mikheyev is also a piece who was not healthy last season and his penalty-killing ability was a reason why the Canucks targeted the winger in the free agency period of 2022.
The newcomers will be the leading men on the quest to improve the penalty kill and they have had a top-10 power play over the past two seasons so the special teams battle is there to be won on a nightly basis if the Canucks can rise their penalty kill from being the worst in the league.
In the end, it’s a question that we just don’t have the answer to and that’s why we just need to see how the cards fall when the regular season begins. The new coaching staff will have different views on how to attack their team’s shorthanded units and with some added bodies, they are in a position to be better while a man or two short. We just need to see them be better on the ice instead of better on paper. That’s been a problem in the past few years.
Can Thatcher Demko get back in the conversation as a top-five goaltender?
This question is somewhat tied to the first one as Demko is and will for the foreseeable future be the most important penalty killer on the Canucks. Demko battled an injury last season and was not 100% through the year. He’s now had a full offseason to train in full health and has matured as a pro over the past few years with how many peaks and valleys he has endured as an NHLer — specifically, as an NHL starter.
Demko was seventh in Vezina Trophy voting after the 2021-22 season, posting a 33-22-7 record along with a 0.915% save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average. Those numbers dropped last season with the Canucks having a loose playing style in the early part of the season. With a new coaching staff getting a full offseason and training camp to prepare the team to play a more structured style of play.
When you talk to goalie guys in the Vancouver market like Kevin Woodley, Greg Balloch or our own David Quadrelli, something they often bring up is how much a goaltender is affected by the defensive structure in front of them. A good example is how the Canucks played in the bubble playoffs. They were insistent on clogging up shooting lanes and giving more space in a man-coverage structure. This forced low-danger shots and in doing so, it saw Demko’s bubble numbers be absolutely ridiculous. Just to remind you, Demko has a 0.985% save percentage during his bubble run.
I’m not saying that improved structure will make Demko the best goaltender of all time but if the coaching staff, players and goalies can all get on the same page regarding where they expect to give up shots in the defensive zone, it has to help the goaltender’s approach to how they challenge shooters or the depth in which they are in their crease in different situations. The good news is that Demko is a very good NHL goaltender. Any team would be happy to have him with their organization and the Canucks are lucky to have a goalie with the potential to challenge for a Vezina Trophy shortly.
Health is key to getting Demko back in the conversation as a top-five goalie but fitting with the team’s defensive structure is also very important to his success. It’s good to have the best goaltender coach in the world working closely with the coaching staff. Ian Clark needs to know what to teach and work on with Demko and his other goaltenders. Having a consistent defensive structure will do nothing but help that. You want your goalie to know what to expect and not be often surprised by wide-open nets due to a lost man in the defensive zone.
What is the team identity of the Vancouver Canucks?
The core of this team still screams offence. They are led by Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Andrei Kuzmenko and Thatcher Demko. The strength of that core screams offensive to me.
What doesn’t scream offence is the way that Head Coach Rick Tocchet and General Manager Patrik Allvin talk about making improvements to the team. The Canucks have talked about structure more than Ted Mosby when he was a professor at Columbia. It’s clear that run and gun didn’t work in the long-term for the Canucks and we saw that with Bruce Boudreau as the coach.
The players have talked about how things changed when Tocchet came in and my view of an NHL team’s identity comes from their head coach. Tocchet did score a lot of goals in his NHL career but he played tough and he bought into a team’s defensive structure. The Canucks will not be such a prolific scoring team next season but they have some pieces that should be able to score a boatload of goals no matter which team they play on.
We know that every team wants to be hard to play against but the Canucks almost need to create a new identity of being tough to play against while also leaning heavily on their offence because that’s what their best players are most successful at. If the Canucks can just take on the identity of how their head coach played, that would be ideal. They have some tougher guys like Miller, Dakota Joshua and Vasily Podkolzin but they also now have some size and better talent on the backend with Carson Soucy and Filip Hronek.
I guess in the end, we just want to see an identity developed for this Canucks team this season. They are turning the page on the past and have gone all-in with their current group. I don’t think we will see the team playing the same way that Tocchet did during the 80s and 90s but it will be a modernized version of that type of playstyle.
And honestly, that’s an identity that we can get behind. The players seem bought in on what Tocchet is preaching and the players who impress the coaching staff the most will get the best opportunities. We may even see some players play above their expected spot in the lineup if they can be accountable to the coaching staff consistently.
Get ready for some fun.
These are just three of the questions that came to mind after mulling over it from our chat on Thursday’s show. I’m sure you have some questions as well and I’d love to see what you have for your biggest questions heading into the season. Are you with me on the penalty kill, Demko, and the team identity or do you have other questions about this team?
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