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With no Boeser for Game 7, the Canucks will need to max out minutes for what’s left of the top-six

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
It was the boest of times, it was the worst of times.
When the Vancouver Canucks dropped a painful 5-1 loss in Game 6 against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, many fans probably provided their own ironic narrative foreshadowing, thinking aloud to themselves that “at least it can’t get any worse than this.”
But it could, and it did.
Obviously, any time we’re dealing with a medical malady as serious and potentially life-threatening as blood clotting issues, all hockey-related concerns come secondary. So, we’re well aware that most folks first thoughts upon hearing that Brock Boeser would miss Monday’s Game 7 were concerns for his health, safety, and long-term well-being.
And those thoughts continued on into Monday morning, when news dropped that Boeser would likely not be returning for any postseason action, even if the Canucks were fortunate enough to win Game 7 and move on to Round 3 against the Dallas Stars.
Boeser is, at the very least, undergoing treatment now and expected to eventually make a full recovery. Which does make us feel a little bit more comfortable talking about the on-ice implications of his absence, and that’s got us grateful for multiple reasons, because tiptoeing around the elephant in the room is getting awkward.
So, we’re just going to come out and say it:
Things-more-important-than-hockey aside, this is about the worst news the Canucks could have got as far as hockey is concerned.
If there’s one truth about the Canucks’ roster that has become evident as Vancouver has made it to the half-way point of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s that the team is still lacking at least one major offensive piece.
Centres JT Miller and Elias Lindholm have played spectacularly at both ends of the ice. After an excessively slow start to the postseason, Elias Pettersson also seems to be rounding into form.
But this is clearly a centre-driven team, and one that subsequently lacks talent on the wings.
In watching these playoffs, most folks had already decided that an additional top-six winger was probably number one on the offseason shopping list.
And now they’ve lost who was easily their best winger, and the only one making consistent offensive contributions, in Boeser.
We don’t need to delve into the fancy stats to make this point. Boeser leads the postseason Canucks with seven goals and is tied with Miller for the point-lead with 12. Following them on the list are Lindholm (9 points), Quinn Hughes (9), and Nikita Zadorov (8), and then you finally get another winger in Dakota Joshua and his eight points.
Put differently, it takes the next three highest-scoring wingers in Joshua (4), Conor Garland (2), and Pius Suter (2) to outscore Boeser and his seven playoff goals.
Which all serves as a fine way of highlighting just how major a crisis the Canucks are facing in losing Boeser for the time being.
But what’s the solution?
It’s not an in-house replacement. That simply doesn’t exist. Like we said earlier on, the Canucks have shown to be lacking in top-six talent on the wings. If they could suddenly pull one out of the hat, they would have already.
Players like Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin have perhaps the potential to become top-six scorers in the future. But between them, they’ve got one NHL goal in the past calendar month.
If they’re part of the answer, they’re a small part.
Höglander skated in the top-six last game alongside Pettersson and Lindholm, and that line played well enough together, generating the Canucks’ only Game 6 goal. But head coach Rick Tocchet has already indicated that he’s returning to the unit of Lindholm, Joshua, and Garland for Game 7.
That simply does not leave enough offensively-capable wingers to form two other scoring lines around Miller and Pettersson. Down Boeser, they’re left with a selection of Suter, Höglander, Podkolzin, Ilya Mikheyev, Sam Lafferty, and the like.
The only real solution here, then, is to put Miller and Pettersson together on a single line. Someone else – probably Suter – gets to ride shotgun with them on what we will have to call the Reduced Jackpot Lotto Line.
The top-six for Game 7, then, looks something like:
Suter-Miller-Pettersson
Joshua-Lindholm-Garland
Now, that might not look like the kind of top-six that should get a team into the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least on paper. On the ice may be a different story.
Of far greater concern than that top-six setup should be what’s left for the bottom-end of the roster. With the three top centres compressed into a condensed top-six, that leaves Teddy Blueger and Nils Åman centering the third and fourth lines by default. They’ll be flanked by some combination of Höglander, Lafferty, Podkolzin, Mikheyev, Phil di Giuseppe, and Linus Karlsson, with two from the list taking a healthy scratch.
It’s not a list of players who can be counted on to provide much timely scoring, and it’s definitely not a crew that can be relied upon for an abundance of minutes against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The real solution, then, is not just to squeeze all the scoring talent into this new condensed top-six, but to also ride this new condensed top-six for some extremely heavy minutes in Game 7. If all of Miller, Lindholm, Garland, Joshua, Pettersson, and Suter are going to be shared between just two forward lines, then those forward lines are going to need to skate a set of 5v5 ice-time somewhere in the range of about 20 minutes each.
This doesn’t need to be a permanent or long-term solution. The Dallas Stars aren’t built nearly as top-heavy as the Edmonton Oilers, and the balance of the lines can be reconfigured if and when the Canucks move on.
But they don’t move on unless they defeat Edmonton in Game 7 first. And, to do that, they’re going to need to lean on their remaining top-six forwards harder than ever before.
It may only be for one night only. But what a night it will be.

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