Photo credit:© Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Should fans be worried that the Canucks took a step back in the fighting department this offseason?
7 months ago
For years, fans of the Vancouver Canucks have complained about the team’s lack of toughness. This offseason, the Canucks appear to have taken a potentially significant step back in the fighting department. And that might not be as bad as you’d think.
According to our friends over at hockeyfights.com, the Canucks, as a team, fought 34 times this season. This was the fifth-highest total fighting major tally in the league, behind the Minnesota Wild (35), Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators (36), and the Tampa Bay Lightning who finished the year with a league-leading 37 fighting majors.
What we really want to focus on is the teams near the bottom of the league to illustrate why it’s maybe not the worst thing that the Canucks lost their two leading fighters in Luke Schenn (5 majors) and Kyle Burroughs (8 majors) this offseason.
Here are some NHL teams who ranked in the bottom half of total fighting majors this season, along with their league rank and how many fighting majors they tallied as a team.
- Carolina Hurricanes (32nd, 5 fights)
- LA Kings (28th, 11 fights)
- Dallas Stars (27th, 13 fights)
- Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils (26th, 14 fights)
It would appear that prioritizing team toughness — being hard on the forecheck, being ruthless in your own end and finishing every check — is what good teams tend to focus on, and it’s what the Canucks need to finally focus on when it comes to their roster construction.
The Stanley Cup-winning Vegas Golden Knights, for example, were one of the most difficult teams to contend with this past season, most notably thanks to their blueline of towering yet mobile and fully capable defencemen. The Canucks took a step in this direction when they added 6’5 Carson Soucy in free agency. Soucy fought twice this past season, and has five fights in his NHL career. He’s capable, but he’s not going to be an enforcer by any means.
There’s one team that serves as a bit of a more realistic comparison for the Canucks: Edmonton.
As stated above, the Oilers ranked 26th league-wide with 14 total fights. The interesting thing is most of those came in the second half of the season. The turning point for the Oilers seemed to come in their January 9th matchup against the LA Kings, when they got into three fights. That game turned out to be a 6-3 loss for the Oilers but a rallying point.
The main reason most Canucks fans worry about a lack of fighting ability on the roster is that they don’t want to see opposing players take shots at Elias Pettersson. The Oilers have a similar interest with Connor McDavid, but seem to have found an answer that the Canucks should be trying to replicate — Evander Kane.
Kane is skilled enough to play with McDavid and find success, but is also ready to throw down whenever necessary. The interesting thing is that when Kane is playing with McDavid, it’s far more rare for an opposing player to even so much as finish a check on the Oilers’ captain.
If the Canucks want to improve their toughness, that’s what they need to prioritize. A traditional fighter or enforcer simply isn’t a player that winning teams are employing in 2023. But someone who can hold their own on a top line just as well as they can when they square off with another player certainly is.
Who is the answer for the Canucks in this spot? The easy answer is JT Miller, who has already had success playing the wing alongside Pettersson and also tallied the most fights of any Canuck not named Burroughs or Schenn last season.
But given the Canucks’ centre depth, the club can’t really afford to move Miller to the wing. Adding a capable middle six centre might help, but like cap space, those don’t grow on trees.
Thankfully, it’s up for debate if their lineup’s newfound lack of fighting ability will even be an issue worth worrying about this season. With Schenn and Burroughs around, people still complained about toughness, but they complained about the penalty kill and team defence a whole heck of a lot more, because ultimately, that was what cost this team the most games this past season.
With the additions of Teddy Blueger, Ian Cole, and the aforementioned Carson Soucy, the Canucks seem to have addressed those needs. And while it may have come at the expense of the total number of fights they’ll log next season, addressing their team toughness and becoming a team that should be harder to play against seems like a better bet than going out and handing Ryan Reaves the three-year $4.05 million contract the Toronto Maple Leafs inked him to in free agency.
Ask any player and it’d be a surprise if a single one told you that the Ottawa Senators or Philadelphia Flyers were among the toughest teams to play against last season, despite finishing with the second-highest fight total in the league.
But ask them the same question about the 26th-ranked Stanley Cup Champions and the answer will be quite different.
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