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Let’s talk about the Canucks’ ice-time distribution

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
11 months ago
New head coach Rick Tocchet has the Vancouver Canucks on a roll. The Canucks are 7-3-0 over their last 10 games and are slowly moving up in the standings. The run of strong play has largely been led by the team’s big names as Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko, J.T. Miller, and Thatcher Demko have been playing some of their best hockey of the season.
The Canucks currently sit 25th in the NHL with 65 points. They’re tied with the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues in that spot. With a few teams mushed together in this area of the standings, an extended winning streak at this time of year can have a drastic effect on draft position, a phenomenon that Canucks fans should be familiar with.
Since taking over, Rick Tocchet has distributed ice-time like he’s coaching a team that’s in the playoff race. He’s actually increased the minutes of several key contributors down the stretch. This has helped the team positively on the ice, but it’s also a very curious decision, considering the Canucks’ spot in the standings at this time of year.

Canucks skaters getting no days off

While you might think that the Canucks would be giving their stars a lighter workload at this time of year, providing players like Vitali Kravtsov an opportunity to prove their worth, that has not been the case lately. Since Rick Tocchet took over, Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Andrei Kuzmenko have all seen their ice-time increase.
Hughes has seen an increase of just under a minute per game to 25:43, Pettersson has increased about a minute-and-a-half to 21:29, and Kuzmenko has jumped a minute to 17:00 per game. While this wouldn’t be cause for concern normally, it makes no sense considering where the Canucks are in the standings.
Since Tocchet took over as the team’s head coach, Hughes is eighth across all NHL skaters in total ice-time. Petterson ranks within the top 20 of forwards as well.
These are some of the best players in the league and there’s no issue with giving them larger roles. Tocchet has made it clear from the day he took the job that he expects Hughes and Pettersson to be leaders of this team going forward, both on and off the ice. The issue comes when the 5’10” Hughes has to play 26+ minutes every night when the only thing on the line is moving backwards in the lottery.
The timing makes no sense, full stop. There is not much for the Canucks to gain by increasing Pettersson, Hughes, and Kuzmenko’s minutes this late in the season. In fact, you could argue that the team is suffering because of the bigger roles, and there is so much at risk.

Thatcher Demko’s workload

The Canucks have relied on Thatcher Demko a ton since he became the team’s starting goalie. He made 99 starts across the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, good for fifth most in the league. He also faced 3,131 shots over that time frame, the third most behind only Connor Hellebuyck and Juuse Saros.
Relieving Demko of his insane workload has been a goal for the organization over the past few years but the struggle to find a capable backup and the necessity of having Demko cover up defensive mistakes has made that difficult. At the start of this season, Demko finally looked human as he struggled mightily before going down with a groin injury that kept him sidelined for multiple months.
When Demko recently returned to the lineup, he rejoined a Canucks team that looked much different than the one he last played for. Bo Horvat and Bruce Boudreau are long gone, replaced by Tocchet and a variety of new players.
The goals of this Canucks team should also be very different than the one that started the season as they have a minuscule chance at making the playoffs. Even if the Canucks did set the NHL record for the longest win streak and somehow made the playoffs, would that be a good thing?
Despite the team’s playoff chances being next to zero, Demko has been thrown right back into his regular workload. Since his return in late February against the Dallas Stars, he’s started eight of the team’s nine games. This stretch has included three games that have gone past regulation. Not only is he starting a lot, the Canucks’ leaky defence means he’s constantly getting a full workload.

The Canucks’ direction

One of the biggest criticisms of this team over the past decade has been its lack of direction. The decision to continue to play Pettersson, Hughes, Kuzmenko, and Demko big minutes is just another example. Why are the Canucks acting like they need to push their stars to the limit?
Everyone involved in the NHL is competitive. None of the players, nor the recently hired coach, are going to roll over and lose games on purpose. Still, that doesn’t mean that you need to increase the time your best players are spending on the ice in meaningless games.
The Canucks have lots of players like Vasily Podkolzin (11:26 TOI under Tocchet), Vitali Kravtsov (10:51), Sheldon Dries (11:32), and Dakota Joshua (12:34) that will be fighting for roster spots next season. This time of year could be a great time to give them an extended audition in live NHL game action.
Do you think it’s an issue that Tocchet has increased the workload of key players? Would you continue with this distribution? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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