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If the Canucks MUST make the playoffs in 2023/24, what does ‘all in’ look like?

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
7 months ago
The Mission Impossible franchise just debuted the seventh instalment in its film franchise with Dead Reckoning Part One.
The Mission Improbable series, however, will conclude with Episode IV, which could be titled Dead-Set on Reaching the Postseason.
If you’re just joining us, in this series we’ve decided to take Elias Pettersson’s ominous wording and Elliotte Friedman’s interpretation of that wording as seriously as possible, and we’re operating from the premise that Pettersson — in one way or another — has communicated to GM Patrik Allvin and Co. that he won’t sign a long-term extension unless the Canucks make the playoffs in this upcoming season.
Now, this is the Vancouver Canucks we’re talking about, an organization that never needs much convincing to make a push toward postseason revenue. But the prospect of “make the playoffs or watch your franchise player walk” certainly gives that push some higher stakes than it’s had in recent memory.
We’ve looked at the teams the Canucks will need to leapfrog. We’ve peered at the teams they’ll need to fend off from the sides and below. We’ve guessed at how many extra points the Canucks themselves will be able to accumulate.
Now, it’s time to get away from all the numbers and get down to the spirit of the thing. What does the 2023/24 look like if the Canucks are all-in and going all-out to make the playoffs?
Or, put differently, what can the Canucks do to give themselves the very best chance of making an appearance in the 2024 postseason?
We’ve got some ideas to present (that shouldn’t necessarily be taken as recommendations.)
 
(Over)Play the stars, especially Demko
Well, we really didn’t expect this to be a popular article, so why not start with one of last year’s hottest controversies?
Some fans were frustrated to see core talent like Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko “overplayed” down the stretch run in 2022/23, despite the Canucks being realistically out of the playoffs long before then.
But if they really want a shot at the 2024 postseason, that’s exactly what they need to do again this year.
The Canucks’ depth has improved, but they’re still a team that is reliant on its stars to win, and that means those stars do need to play as much as possible to give the Canucks their best shot each night. Every point is going to count in the chase for the playoffs, so there can be no nights off.
The player that this applies to the most is clearly Demko. Put bluntly, the Canucks’ chances are sunk without him, and the only real avenue they have to the postseason is to have Demko starting upward of 60 games and winning a better-than-decent chunk of them.
He’s either up to it or the season is a bust anyway.
 
Hang on to Tyler Myers (or find a replacement)
Within a week or so of this being published, Tyler Myers’ $5 million signing bonus will be paid, and he’ll be available to acquire at the low, low price of just $1 million in salary (but still a $6 million cap hit).
There are many who have waited all summer for this point, assuming that Myers would be traded the second he became a cheaper asset.
But if the playoffs are the goal, then keeping Myers is almost a must. The Canucks are still short on RHD, and even if one of Carson Soucy or Ian Cole joins Filip Hronek on that side, Myers still represents the next-best option on the depth chart — and as good an injury replacement as they could possibly find this late in the game.
Myers might not handle those 20+ minute deployments very well, but he can handle them, and that’s more than can be said about anyone lower than him on the depth chart. Reducing the capacity of the blueline is simply not an option, which means that Myers stays on.
(Or, alternatively, a suitable replacement must be found before Myers is traded. This is where a healthy Ethan Bear could enter the picture again.)
 
An all-veteran center rotation
Forward units both literally and figuratively revolve around their centers. Which is why, if they want to give themselves the best chance to win on a nightly basis, the Canucks should probably go with an all-veteran center rotation in 2023/24.
That means going Pettersson, JT Miller, Pius Suter, and Teddy Blueger, and probably in that order. Sorry, Nils Åman, but you’re on the outside looking in for now, unless you can come into Training Camp and straight-up steal a job from someone older.
Veteran centers are great at doing all the “little things” that add up to hockey victories: defensive coverage, faceoff wins, chippy stuff.
To make the playoffs, the Canucks need the consistent stability of their centerpieces far more than they need the upward potential of someone like Åman.
 
Employ some form of load management
“Load management” is still a controversial term in hockey circles. We’re probably never going to get to the point of the NBA, where star players are regularly healthy scratched just to keep them fresh and healthy, but perhaps there is a middle ground worth exploring.
We’ve already noted how much the Canucks are going to rely on their stars playing big minutes. Could they compensate for that with occasional nights off? Or at least nights of reduced minutes?
When Chicago rolls into town, should it be automatic to give Demko the night off and chop Hughes’ ice-time by five minutes?
Alternatively, and perhaps more popularly for players who loathe losing ice-time, perhaps the team could explore a reduced practice schedule for certain players, or something along those lines.
Or, the team could say “to heck with it,” because it’s making the playoffs that is the goal, not sticking around once they get there.
 
Pick a captain now
We’ve been talking captaincy all summer, and the general consensus amongst fans and media alike seems to be that the Canucks should not name a captain for the 2023/24 season.
But while most prefer to wait, that’s not exactly conducive to an “all-in” attempt at the playoffs. Teams do typically need leaders, and going all year without an official ‘C’ could represent both a distraction and a lack of focus, potentially to the team’s detriment.
Teams do make the playoffs frequently without a captain, but they are the exception to the rule. If the 2023/24 season is going to be a mad drag-race to the finish, it makes plenty of sense for someone to have their hands firmly on the wheel, whoever that might be.
 
Up the physicality (especially against Pacific rivals)
Believe it or not, the Canucks finished eighth in the league and first in the Pacific Division in 2022/23 with 2024 hits.
To give themselves the best chance of rising up the Pacific standings in 2023/24, that needs to both continue and intensify.
The Canucks aren’t the most physically-imposing roster, but they have added some bangers in Soucy and Cole, and some existing players, like Dakota Joshua, are probably capable of giving more on this front. Making up for the loss of Luke Schenn and Kyle Burroughs, isn’t easy, but it is doable by committee.
The Pacific Division has lost a lot of muscle over the last couple of offseasons. The opportunity is there for the Canucks to, if not physically dominate, at least make their physicality a factor on a night-in, night-out basis.
Doing so both ups their chances of reaching the playoffs and makes them more ready when those playoffs arrive.
 
Cut and demote players mercilessly
If every point counts, the Canucks can’t abide any passengers in 2023/24. That starts with Training Camp, where competition should be fierce and anyone not up to snuff should be cut in favour of those who are. That’s regardless of age, status, or contract, too.
From then on out, the Canucks finally have enough depth to really lean on their hot hands. If someone in the bottom-six isn’t contributing much, it’s probably time to swap them out for someone on a roll down in Abbotsford.
If a veteran starts slumping, they’ll need to come out of the lineup for a while until they’re back up to speed.
The Canucks can’t afford to be as nice about who’s “on the team” anymore if the stakes are as high as we think they are.
 
Pay up to create cap wiggle room
Speaking of roster management, the Canucks are still tight up against the cap, and getting under it before opening night may prove tricky if Tanner Pearson really is as healthy as they say.
Some options include running with a roster of fewer than 23 players. But for a team that travels and incurs injuries as often as the Canucks do, this isn’t really workable.
What the Canucks need is some wiggle room, and the only way to get that is to pay up.
At this point, that probably looks like giving someone a draft pick or a prospect to take the returned Pearson off their hands.
Whatever the cost, such wiggle room would allow the Canucks to A) ice a full 23-person roster and B) call-up and demote players with abandon throughout the season. That’s the kind of flexibility they’re going to need to maximize their point-earning potential.
 
Acquire a better backup, or recall Arturs Silovs frequently
We’re not here to be cruel or callous, but Spencer Martin was the worst backup in the NHL last year, and it wasn’t even close.
Yes, Demko is going to play the lion’s share of the games in 2023/24, but the Canucks can’t look at all of their backup games as near-guaranteed losses and still expect to make the playoffs. Nor can they sit around and hope that Martin will magically rebound.
Perhaps using that aforementioned wiggle room, the Canucks need to acquire a better backup. There are seemingly plenty available on the market.
Or, alternatively, the Canucks need to use the close placement of Abbotsford to get Arturs Silovs up with the big club as often as possible, his development be damned. This could look like Silovs getting a lot of home appearances and Demko starting almost all the road games, but so be it. Whatever gives the team the best chance to win each night is the only way to go.
 
Keep Anthony Beauvillier as a self-rental
We can keep this one short and sweet.
Anthony Beauvillier is the Canucks’ most valuable expiring contract. For almost any team in the stage of development that the Canucks are in, the smart move would be to trade him at some point during the season for a futures-based return.
But not if the goal is making the playoffs. Under that context, it makes more sense to hang on to Beauvillier as a sort of “self-rental,” even if the team fully intends on letting him walk come the summer.
Any extra points he brings to the table in the meantime will have been worth it.
 
Trade that first round pick
Sorry about this.
But one thing we can probably guarantee is that the Canucks won’t be comfortably in a playoff spot by the Trade Deadline. If they’re in it, they’ll be in the thick of it, and that will lead to a desire to “buy” at the deadline, not sell.
The Canucks are already down their 2024 second rounder, and they only have a handful of quality prospects that they desperately need to hang onto. That means that their best trade chip is the 2024 first round pick, and if they’ve absolutely, positively gotta make the playoffs, then what else can they do but trade it?
The pick shouldn’t come cheap, and it should almost certainly be spent on a top-four defender. To say that such a move would prove controversial isn’t even a guess, as we already went through this with Hronek last year.
But if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes.

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