Lindholm’s struggles, Hughes for Norris, and more: 3 Canucks storylines to follow down the stretch

Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Gould
3 months ago
The story of the 2023–24 Vancouver Canucks still isn’t complete.
It’s been a great year (so far). J.T. Miller is having another banner year, Brock Boeser is on pace for his first 40-point season, Elias Pettersson finally re-signed, and — oh yeah — the team might finish atop the Western Conference.
For a Canucks team that has only made the playoffs once since 2015, this year has to feel like a major relief. But it’s not done. Being a top seed comes with immense pressure to perform in the toughest times. And the games only get tougher from here on out.
We still don’t know which team the Canucks will face in the first round of the playoffs. We can’t say for sure whether this core group will be able get it done in the postseason. And that’s to say nothing about which players on this team might contend for some of the league’s most prestigious individual awards.
Here’s a closer look at three burning questions the Canucks will face down the stretch.
Can Elias Lindholm change the narrative?
Not even the most cynical Vancouver hockey fan could’ve predicted the extent to which Elias Lindholm has struggled through his first two months as a Canuck.
Lindholm has scored in just two of his 21 games since arriving in B.C. as a result of a major trade with the Calgary Flames back in January. The veteran centre scored twice in his first game as a Canuck, added two more in a game against the Detroit Red Wings on February 15, and hasn’t found the back of the net since. Yikes.
When the Canucks first acquired Lindholm from their division rivals, the prevailing sentiment around the market was that Jim Rutherford, Patrik Allvin, and company would take a run at signing the 29-year-old forward to a contract extension. That chatter didn’t last long before being replaced by rumours that the Canucks were looking into flipping Lindholm before the trade deadline. Obviously, that didn’t materialize.
So, here we are. Lindholm has all of eight points in 21 games with the Canucks. On a team with a +58 goal differential, he’s a -6. For whatever reason, be it fit or health, it just hasn’t clicked. It’s in everyone’s best interests for that to change as soon as possible. Back when Lindholm was still with the Flames, his reported asking price on a long-term deal was somewhere in the $9 million ballpark. Now? He might have to settle for half that much.
The Canucks gave up a package of assets including their own 2024 first-round pick and Hunter Brzustewicz to get Lindholm out of Calgary. They’re going to need him to step up in a big way down the stretch and into the playoffs before they can even start thinking about any kind of commitment beyond this season. And for the player … well, a lot of money is on the line.
Will they have to play Vegas in the first round?
This is a big one. Canucks fans really aren’t used to looking at the standings this late in the season, especially not in this way. In recent years, fans in Vancouver have had to settle for having faint hopes of the team claiming a wild card spot — or, failing that (as the team so often has), examining the lottery “race.”
This season couldn’t be more different. The Canucks are firmly in the midst of the Presidents’ Trophy race and have opened up an eight-point lead over the Edmonton Oilers for first place in the Pacific Division. This is rarified air for this franchise in its post-Sedin era.
So, we’re not exactly talking about the 2020 bubble playoffs here. The Canucks aren’t a bottom seed that will be rewarded for sneaking in by having to face the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round. Nope! They’re a top seed … that might have to face the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round. Funny how that works.
As of Friday afternoon, the top-seeded Canucks would have to go up against the No. 8-seeded Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference quarterfinals. The injury-ravaged Knights could very well get Mark Stone and Tomas Hertl back when the playoffs start. They’d be an extremely difficult out.
The Canucks did manage to take Vegas to seven games back in their 2020 series. Both those teams are very different today. It’d be a huge opportunity for this Vancouver team to prove it’s not a playoff pushover.
Will Quinn Hughes win the Norris Trophy?
It really does feel like his year, doesn’t it?
Hughes leads all NHL defencemen with 66 assists and 79 points this season and has truly looked the part of one of the best players in the world. He’s been a complete dynamo from the blue line, offering a tantalizing and extremely rare blend of speed, skill, finesse, smarts, and especially consistency to an extent we hadn’t quite seen from him in the past.
It’s not as though Hughes hasn’t been one of the league’s top defencemen for years. He’s had a spot in that upper echelon for a pretty long time. But this is the year where everything has coalesced for him in such a way that he’s been elevated to the very top in the eyes of onlookers at all levels of the sport. Ask fans, media, coaches — you name it. By consensus, Hughes is this year’s runaway Norris Trophy frontrunner, and for good reason. (Perhaps being named Canucks captain before the season granted Hughes a bit more legitimacy in the eyes of the hockey world).
In any event, Hughes seems to have drawn even more power from that ‘C’ emblem over his heart. He’s on the verge of becoming the first Canucks defenceman to score 80 points in a season … ever. With just five more points, Hughes will move past all of Mattias Ohlund, Jyrki Lumme, and Dennis Kearns to move into second place behind Alex Edler for the most career points by a Canucks defender.
If he does end up winning the Norris, Hughes will become the first Canuck to win the award since the franchise’s inception in 1970. The season isn’t over yet, but it’s looking good.

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