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Monday Mailbag: previewing the Canucks second round matchup against the Edmonton Oilers

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Photo credit:Matthew Henderson
Cody Severtson
1 month ago
These were the Canucks’ lines the last time they pushed through to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In case it wasn’t readily apparent how drastically this roster has been overhauled in the three years since.
Only four players from their last Game Six, series-clinching victory in the opening round. FOUR!
Technically five, when including Thatcher Demko, who was the backup against St. Louis but on IR against Nashville.
This will be an Edmonton matchup-heavy Mailbag, so let’s get our one non-Oil-based question out of the way first!
Based off of playoff performances alone (Abbotsford and Vancouver), which expiring UFAs/RFAs do the Canucks re-sign?
Vancouver’s “must bring back” players:
Nikita Zadorov: 6’8″ defenceman who was arguably one of the Canucks’ top three players in the Nashville series? Oh yeah, you’ve got to bring him back.
Arturs Silovs: This one’s a no-brainer. Silovs is an RFA without arb rights; he should be one of the first players to re-sign this summer.
Have to be brought back if the price is right:
Tyler Myers: I don’t know if this is even a controversial opinion anymore, but I think Myers has shown that he can be a reliable big-minute defenceman under the right coach, with the players bought in. If the club can re-sign Myers to a Carson Soucy-like extension, I wouldn’t be opposed. Ian Cole has been a great value add on a one-year deal, so if Myers takes that spot as the sturdy elder statesman on a $3-mil ticket, I’m fine with it. He’s had a tremendous season and an unbelievable series against Nashville.
Dakota Joshua: I’m one of the few people who think Joshua had an atrocious series against the Predators. It was all downhill for Joshua after game one. I can only assume he was playing through an injury over the final five games because he was strangely quiet physically, offensively, and defensively. Regardless, if the Canucks can extend Joshua for 2-4 years at a sub-$5 million dollar cap hit, they should do it.
Not opposed to letting them go:
I think the Canucks can afford to let Filip Hronek go to any team willing to pay him the rumoured $8-million+ AAV that Hronek’s camp reportedly turned down. If the club can re-allocate the Hronek extension money to any combination of the assets returned for Hronek, plus Zadorov and Joshua, they should do it. Everything Hronek did before the All-Star break was impressive: 3 goals and 38 assists over 49 games on a shooting percentage of just 3.19%.
Everything Hronek did post-All-Star break raised serious doubts that he’d ever live up to some of the rumoured extension figures. Over his last 32 games—37 including the Nashville series—Hronek has just two goals and 12 assists on a shooting percentage of 3.45%. That’s a dramatic fall-off in production, considering he spent the entire season alongside Hughes. The Canucks can’t allocate Hughes-adjacent money to a player with such peaks and valleys alongside a Norris-calibre blueliner.
Guys that you can typically find in free agency for the cost they are at now or less:
Teddy Blueger, Casey DeSmith, Sam Lafferty, Mark Friedman, and Ian Cole.
He’s outta here, regardless:
Elias Lindholm, like Hronek, expects to be paid this offseason. His play in the regular season or playoffs hasn’t inspired any confidence that he’s worth more than what he’s making currently. He’s no Conor Garland, who makes slightly more and single-handedly carried his line throughout the Nashville series.
Abbotsford’s must-bring-back players:
Cole McWard: While going from projected caddy for Quinn Hughes to third-pairing AHL defenceman isn’t exactly the prettiest trajectory for a guy in the “must be brought back” RFA/UFA category. Still, given his age and safe/steady play, I think McWard deserves an extension into next year and beyond. With McWard on the ice, the Canucks outscored opponents 34 to 27 at 5-on-5, the best on-ice goal differential among all Abbotsford defencemen.
Linus Karlsson: I think there could be something there with Karlsson as a fringe depth forward piece. Karlsson finished his sophomore AHL season, producing at a point-per-game pace on the club’s top line, top power-play unit, and on the club’s penalty kill. He’s a versatile forward who forechecks well and has decent hands. With the game tied, no Abbotsford player had more points to break a tie at 5-on-5 than Karlsson. Through 60 games, Karlsson had 12 primary points (goals and primary assists) at 5-on-5 with the game tied, more than any other skater had total points (goals + primary assists + secondary assists). Lowkey, Karlsson has been very clutch for Abbotsford this season.
Abbotsford’s “why not? They played well. Throw a flier on them!”
Abbotsford’s Calder Cup Playoff run has hit a speed bump. After winning a thriller against the Colorado Eagles in overtime, the club has dropped two straight to the Ontario Reign, most recently a Sunday afternoon four-nothing shutout. While no Abbotsford skater has truly stood out, I think most players on expiring contracts showed enough in the regular season to warrant extensions. Filip Johansson, Nick Cicek, and Jett Woo all play tough minutes at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill. Neither should cost much on a one or two-year extension, and all three showed enough improvement over the regular season to indicate that there is still more to give.
Since Arturs Silovs has likely secured his spot as Vancouver’s backup for the 2024-25 season, I think bringing back Zach Sawchenko on a one-year extension would be worthwhile. Sawchenko has been one of the lone bright spots for Abbotsford over this Calder Cup run, especially his 47-save performance in game three against Colorado.
What are the key matchups for both teams going into the series?
In order, these are the matchups that will determine whether the Canucks win or lose this series:
1. Vancouver versus McDavid, a.k.a don’t let McDavid do McDavid things more than once per game
2. Vancouver versus Darnell Nurse, a.k.a. Don’t get frustrated by Nurse’s ability to draw penalties. The Canucks can’t play with fire in this series. Staying out of the box is cliche, but it’s absolutely essential in this series. The Canucks’ PK gives up a lot of shots around the net front on the PK, and the Oilers are kings of net front rebounds. Stay out of the box. JUST STAY OUT OF THE BOX!
3. Silovs versus Skinner, a.k.a. Make the Oilers work for their offence.
The Oilers’ playbook is well-known at this point. McDavid or Draisaitl will dance around the perimeter, draw in multiple players, and thread a shot on goal that rebounds perfectly to Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, or Corey Perry at the net front. Their 5-on-5 heat map shows they lean heavily on shots from the left wing and rebounds from the crease. Fortunately, Vancouver is adept at denying shots on goal from the net front and the left wing.
If Vancouver manages to shut down Edmonton’s ability to get to Silovs’ crease, they will have a good time!
How much do the scales tip if Demko returns? If DeSmith gets in, how many rebound goals does Hyman score?
If Thatcher Demko is 100% healthy, then there is no question the scales tip in Vancouver’s favour.
That actually answers Stephen Mackie’s question of who the best available goalie would be.
As it stands, I think the best goalie eligible to play in this series is still Stuart Skinner. No disrespect to Silovs and his game-six shutouts, but Skinner has a much longer track record of success against NHL shooters. Don’t get me wrong, it’d be rad if Silovs just turned into prime Dominik Hasek against the Oilers, but the sample size is too small to make any sweeping declarations about his place at the top of this series’ goalie pecking order.
As for the last part, if DeSmith is in the net, I would hope it’s because he shut out the Oilers in game one and stole the crease from Silovs. The Canucks can’t allow Hyman to thrive at the net front. Fortunately, I have faith in Nikita Zadorov’s ability to make net front rebounds difficult.
Who gets the job of shuttin down Draisaitl?
I’m guessing that the Garland-Lindholm-Joshua trio will face the Connor McDavid line, and Miller will likely draw the Draisaitl matchup. Lindholm has years of Battle of Alberta experience. Joshua can disrupt McDavid’s play with physicality and speed, and Garland brings sorely needed tenacity along the walls to prevent McD’s line from feasting against a rookie netminder. Therefore, I believe Miller-Suter-Boeser will draw the Draisaitl matchup.
Miller’s line with Boeser and PDG drew the McDavid matchup in games one and two of the regular season. I wouldn’t be shocked if they returned to that matchup, especially now that Pius Suter has found his groove as the key disruptive defensive piece of that trio.
Penalty differential: are we in for a repeat of the Nashville series?
Last week, I went through the Canucks 2023-24 game log to track power play opportunities, times shorthanded, and power play goals for and against. The verdict was that the Canucks won games when they won the special teams battle, won games more often than not when they traded even on the special teams battle, and lost more often than not when losing the special teams battle.
The Canucks won out against the Predators during the regular season 3-zip, despite drawing even on the special teams battle in two of the three.
Through their six-game series, the Canucks’ power play performed better than it did during the regular season against Nashville, while their penalty kill performed worse in playoffs than it did during the regular season, not by much.
During the regular season against Edmonton, the Canucks dominated on the power play. Even if you ignore the first two games of the season, where Vancouver scored four power play goals on nine power play opportunities, they still converted three times on eight tries over their other two meetings.
Again, those four games all came against a true-to-form McDavid-less Oilers squad. So, leaning on charts and statistical analysis ahead of this matchup might be a waste of breath.
The Predators’ top forwards were able to draw an ungodly number of penalties against Vancouver. Filip Forsberg drew the second-most penalties in the first round, with four total against Vancouver at 5-on-5. Leon Draisaitl also drew four penalties in Edmonton’s series against Los Angeles. However, Draisaitl did so while playing 20 fewer minutes at 5-on-5 than Forsberg.
Eight Oilers drew two or more penalties against the Kings. EIGHT!
Nils Höglander, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Conor Garland each drew two penalties in the Nashville series, while five other Canucks drew a single minor penalty each.
Drawing penalties is a huge part of hockey, and the Canucks will not survive this series if they continue to get called for penalties by a nearly two-to-one ratio, especially against the Oilers!
Best not-a-Stanchies parting words
What are our chances of winning if we do this (photo attached)
Considering how hard the Canucks struggled at getting shots in the net from point-blank range, I’m going to say that doing the above with volume will bode very well for their chance to win the series.
What’s your Edmonton/Vancouver prediction?
Given everything stated above, I think we’re getting a banger of a series.
The worst-case scenario is Edmonton or Vancouver taking a page out of Nashville’s books, clogging the middle and forcing all offence to the perimeter. I don’t think the Canucks can win another series registering less than 18 shots a game with a playstyle that requires the absolute perfect slap-pass off the blue line and the perfect redirect in traffic, especially against a team that has McDavid on it.
If this series is more track meet hockey than dead puck-era hockey, then I think the Canucks can make it a seven-game series.
Heck, I’ll be stupidly optimistic and say, Canucks in six.
Why not?
If Elias Pettersson can’t decisively win his matchup against Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, and Mattias Janmark, then it’s the Oilers in five.
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