The Vancouver Canucks are a team without an identity and that needs to change
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang9 months ago
Heading into the season, there were conflicting opinions on how good the Vancouver Canucks would be. Some thought that they would contend for the division title, while others thought that they’d be lucky to sniff a playoff spot. Despite the wide range of predictions, most agreed that they’d be a high-scoring team that played an exciting brand of hockey due to the fact that they’re heavy on forwards while weaker on defence.
A little over halfway through the season, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Canucks rank first in goals allowed per sixty minutes at 5-on-5 with a minuscule 1.91. If you had told anyone that the Canucks would be leading the league at the halfway point in this stat, most would assume that they’d be near the top of the division standings.
Instead, the Canucks have struggled mightily. Despite a large winning streak upon the arrival of new head coach Bruce Boudreau, they are still comfortably outside of a playoff spot. They’ve failed to score goals and have been decimated on the penalty kill. It’s been a recipe for disaster that will most likely have fans firing up mock draft lottery simulators in the near future.
One of the biggest issues facing the Canucks today is discovering what their identity is. Are they a defensive team that is going to shut down opponents and win low-scoring games? That seems to be Boudreau’s vision, at least for the moment, but the roster is horribly designed for this.
“Our strength is defence right now,” said Boudreau before a game earlier this week against the Arizona Coyotes. “If we have to eek games out 2-1 and 3-1, that’s what we’ll do.”
Or is the team’s identity one of a creative offensive team that will rely on their goaltending to make up for their weak defence? This would be closer to how we saw the team play under Travis Green in the bubble, though one could argue that team benefited from some nice puck luck.
The Canucks’ current lack of identity
As it stands right now, the Canucks are stuck in the middle of those two identities. They’re trying to play a defensive game but don’t have the personnel to do it. If they try to open things up and play a more free-flowing style of hockey, that only creates more defensive mistakes, resulting in an even more difficult job for Thatcher Demko.
The issue lies in the construction of the roster as the defence needs to be sheltered, resulting in the forward group sacrificing some of its offensive potential. In addition, there isn’t enough depth in the organization. The team has been relatively healthy this year, especially the stars, yet their lack of depth is exposed every couple of games.
Bruce Boudreau has brought a more structured system to Vancouver that the players have been slowly adjusting to. He’s brought a more aggressive forecheck that has forced opponents into more turnovers and it’s the ability to play within that system that will help kickstart the Canucks’ offence. As players become more familiar with the system, the hope is that they’ll find more ways to be creative within the system.
How the Canucks can find their identity
Luckily for the Canucks, there is a solution in the works and that starts with a top-down vision established across the entire organization. Jim Rutherford has been consistent in his message since he arrived and has brought in a talented team around him to execute his vision. He continues to preach, and act on, his desire for a diverse front office that can collaborate to make decisions.
In terms of what that might look like on the ice, Rutherford has expressed that he wants the team to play fast and with skill, but that it’s going to take time to find that. At his previous stops, he always tried to build teams that could skate well and he recognizes that it’s the most crucial skill for a player to have in the modern NHL. Expect the new front office group to be active in acquiring players through alternative channels such as NCAA free agents or European free agents.
“We need to build up the depth. And one of the areas that we want to look at, it was really something we did in Pittsburgh, is college free agents and European free agents,” said Rutherford when discussing his plans for the organization.
Canucks fans should be excited that the front office seems to have a well-thought-out long-term plan with plenty of smart people to see it through, a contrast from the day-to-day outlook of the last regime.
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