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Taking stock of an unbelievable first half of the season and what heights the Canucks can reach from here

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Photo credit:© Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
5 months ago
When Elias Pettersson scored the overtime winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, he celebrated with the kind of overwhelming emotion that he doesn’t usually show on the ice.

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Pettersson’s joy tells you a lot about how the Canucks view themselves at the halfway point of their season. The vibes around this hockey team are sky-high.
The 2023-24 Canucks are on pace for the second-best season in franchise history, currently sitting in second place in the National Hockey League, and appear only to be picking up steam as some of their Pacific Division rivals fall apart behind them.
What a difference a year can make.
Remember last season? When time seemed to stand still, and the final buzzer just couldn’t come fast enough with every passing game?
This year, the first 41 games of the Canucks season feel like they’ve flown by at the same hyper speed as Han Solo doing the Kessel Run. Games that used to get away from them in a parsec, like last night’s when the Penguins came back from a two-goal deficit to force overtime, don’t faze them anymore. They just buckle down harder.
Every time you expect the bottom to fall out, the drop never arrives. PDO, scoring hot streaks, being outshot on a nightly basis; they’ve all tried to undo the Canucks’ momentum, but so far, the hockey gods haven’t found their Achilles heel.
That difference is thanks to a lot of factors. The Canucks’ core is as strong as it’s been in over a decade, scoring seemingly at will and forcing opponents to treat every player as an equal threat. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller have reached the height of their scoring powers and are all on pace to finish with career years with All-Star nods to boot. Brock Boeser had a goal at the beginning of the season to score 30 for the first time in his career. Today, he’s just three away from completing that task and within spitting distance of Auston Matthews (33) in the Rocket Richard race.
Rick Tocchet has the team playing with the kind of structure and defensive effort that wins in the postseason, and they’ve finally found a reliable backup option for Thatcher Demko in Casey DeSmith. But the supporting cast is where the biggest difference has been felt, with the strongest supporting cast of players since the days of Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond. The contributions of Pius Suter, Teddy Blueger, Dakota Joshua, Conor Garland, Nils Höglander, Filip Hronek, and Ian Cole, among others, have been instrumental in the club’s success.
The Canucks aren’t a bonafide Stanley Cup contender yet. That tag takes years of consistent playoff berths and deep runs to earn.
For now, their work after 41 games has cemented themselves as one of the league’s legitimate dark horse candidates ahead of the 2024 Playoffs, something no one has been able to say about this team by the midway point of the season in over nine years.
Very few teams in NHL history have turned one magic season into years of contention, but a prominent recent example springs to mind. The Vegas Golden Knights went from paper misfits to a Stanley Cup Final at the end of their first season to winning their first title in just five years. That journey required the ability to continuously cycle through depth pieces, selling high whenever possible and adding as much star talent at the trade deadline as possible, something Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin are already working the phones to do.
But with so much of the team’s long-term plans centred around Elias Pettersson and whether or not he returns to Vancouver, how do you manage around that? Do you make changes assuming he’ll be back and try to set the team up for years of contending? Or do you treat this season as your last shot to win with him and empty the cupboard for an all-in Stanley Cup run?
Right now, the Canucks front office seems to be leaning closer to doing the latter, with plans to add another top-six forward and shore up their defense for a Cup run being reported in the media. One thing they can’t do is try to accomplish both at the same time. The last management group failed so spectacularly because they built like they were adding to an existing contender when, really, they were years away from competing.
Next year, that type of choice might be looked at differently depending on when the team’s season officially ends.
But that’s for next year’s Canucks fans to worry about. Right now, Vancouver is having more fun watching their team than they have in a very, very long time. The players are finally enjoying themselves (well, except for their perennially stressed-out captain), the front office and coaching staff’s player adds have them looking like pro-scouting geniuses, and the fans are finally watching meaningful games with a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, it’ll end with a parade down Robson Street.
Management and players have banked enough points and goodwill that it would take a monumental collapse to warrant worrying about what comes next for the Vancouver Canucks.
So, as far as the next half of the season is concerned, fans shouldn’t worry too much about tomorrow. Half the fun is in the journey, and this one is shaping up to be one of the most fascinating adventures we’ve ever seen.

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