How the two-week season-opening road trip could change the Canucks’ approach to cuts at Training Camp
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
5 days ago
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This weekend, the Vancouver Canucks officially kick off their 2023/24 preseason with the opening of the Penticton Young Stars Tournament.
And while the wait has been long, it’s all going to start moving pretty fast from here on out.
Training Camp comes next week, and by next Sunday, the Canucks are already playing non-prospect exhibition games.
A couple weeks of that, and we’re on to the regular season before we know it.
The rushed, all-of-a-sudden nature of the NHL season seems to happen every year, but if this year seems a little different, there’s probably good reason for it. As soon as the schedule flips over from exhibition to regular, the Canucks are setting off on a two-week, five-game, season-opening road trip that will take them from Western Canada to Florida and back again.
It’s not exactly a typical opening to a season, to say the very least. And it can’t help but to effect the way in which the Canucks are going to approach Training Camp 2023.
Our articles aren’t written by AI, but we will occasionally quote Allen Iverson, because today we’re mostly talking about “practice.” Yes, practice. One more time, it’s practice.
Practices tend to be an underdiscussed aspect of life on an NHL team, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Practices are particularly important early on in the year, especially on teams that either have a new coaching staff, a lot of new players, or a new system they are trying to implement.
The Canucks could be argued as falling into all three categories. Head coach Rick Tocchet and his staff have been employed in Vancouver since January, but they had to make all of their changes on the fly, so to speak. Tocchet and Co. came in intending to make a major systems change, and obviously did achieve some of that as the 2022/23 season wore on, but they never got the benefit of a camp or an exhibition season to really drill their ideas home.
Many of the players on the roster now weren’t even around to get the Tocchet cliff’s notes last year. That’s especially true on the blueline, where the turnover has been considerable. Quinn Hughes is still at the depth chart, but there’s been so much change around him, it’s almost like he’s been traded to a new team. Tyler Myers remains, albeit in a reduced role. Three-quarters of the expected top-four in Filip Hronek, Ian Cole, and Carson Soucy are essentially uninitiated in Tocchet hockey, and the same goes for many of the depth pieces that were either in Abbotsford or elsewhere last season.
In other words, there’s a lot of learning left to be done. And although Tocchet now has a full start-up in which to begin implementing his system and values team-wide, he doesn’t exactly have the same amount of time on his hands as an NHL coach normally would at this point in the year.
A two-week road trip might not sound like that long. Western Conference teams go on trips of a similar length a couple of times each year. But opening the season with such a trip is a different thing altogether.
What it really means for the Canucks is a severely-limited practice schedule to start the season, which would be a problem for anyone, but seems a particularly potent issue for a team in such a transitional phase.
The Canucks need more practices, not fewer, right now. But they’re not going to get them. Practices are hard to come by on the road at the best of times, and this five-game road trip includes a lot of travel.
That doesn’t just leave the Canucks shortchanged when it comes to learning Tocchet’s systems. It also gives them two weeks to develop bad habits that Tocchet and Co. might not have the time to address, and before they know it, their team could be five games (6%!) into the season and already on a bad track.
And even if they avoid bad habits, the Canucks will at the very least find themselves “behind” when it comes to their prescribed systems learning.
So, what’s a coaching staff to do? The schedule’s not changing. That road trip is happening one way or another, and the Canucks have no control over it.
The only thing they can do, is make different choices when it comes to those things that they do control. Namely: Training Camp cuts.
Normally, for a team with as many hot roster battles and jockeying depth pieces as the Canucks currently have, there’s no rush to make cuts. Usually, in a situation like this, the coaching staff would want as long a look as possible at everyone, and for all players to have as many chances as possible to impress (or not).
This Training Camp could, and probably should, be different. And by that, we mean that the cuts should come earlier…perhaps a lot earlier.
Here’s our thinking. If the Canucks aren’t going to have much practice time for the first two weeks of the season, they’re left with essentially two options. One is to try to make up for that time after the fact, slipping in extra practices as frequently as possible after the team returns from the road trip. But that’s hardly ideal, and doing things on the fly is never preferable.
Alternatively, the Canucks can try to get that extra practice time in before embarking on the road trip. But in order to do that effectively, the Canucks are going to have to have some idea of what their opening night roster is going to look like a little earlier than usual. That means earlier cuts.
A 50+-person roster is a little unwieldy when it comes to conducting the sorts of practices that an NHL team needs in order to gel as a roster under a new system. With that in mind, getting the roster down to somewhere between 23 and 25ish as soon as possible means that Tocchet gets more preseason on-ice sessions in with his actual team, and that’s something that could make all the difference.
It could be the difference between the Canucks going into that five-game road trip with their system already down pat and then having to learn it two weeks into the system after they’ve just flown back from Florida.
Of course, that means less time for those fighting for jobs to impress the coaches. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A little extra camp competition never hurt anyone, and nothing increases the competitiveness quite like a truncated timeline. Tell these players that cuts are coming at least a week earlier than usual this year, and watch how some of them step up in a big way.
Fewer opportunities to impress means that every individual opportunity matters that much more. That’s not a bad piece of messaging to give players on Day One of camp.
Ideally, the Canucks should come close to completing their cuts sometime in the first week of October. That would give them two weeks’ worth of practice time and three games of exhibition action with their in-season roster. We think doing so should have a far greater impact on their success in the upcoming season than taking a couple extra looks at some players on the bubble.
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