Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Will the Canucks tank for Bedard with Demko out, and do they even get a choice?
1 year ago
BC-born Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats just completed a whirlwind tour of his home province. The best prospect to ever(?) come out of the WHL rampaged from Victoria to Prince George, selling out some barns that hadn’t been sold out in a decade. All this, en route to the 17-year-old becoming the slam-dunk first overall selection in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
In the same week, the Vancouver Canucks lost Thatcher Demko to a lower-body injury that is set to keep him out of the lineup for approximately six weeks.
Those two events could be seen as totally disparate or entirely related, depending on one’s perspective.
We’re talking, of course, about tanking. Falling hard for Bedard, if you will.
It’s a controversial concept in the Vancouver market, and indeed in most markets, but if current trends continue, it’s going to soon be an unavoidable topic.
And those trends are the Canucks being one of the worst teams in the league already and having just lost last season’s MVP.
So, let’s talk about it.
You won’t find many people that are opposed to the end result of tanking for Bedard, with that end result being of drafting the most-hyped British Columbian ever. Everyone and their team dog would love to see Bedard selected by the Canucks, including Bedard himself, who grew up in North Van cheering for Tyler Motte and the Canucks.
But is tanking anything more than an idle fantasy at this point, or does the Demko injury make it a tantalizing possibility?
Let’s first figure out what a “tank” would even look like.
We can all forget right now about the idea that any players are going to attempt to lose on purpose. Look, these are professional athletes, and hockey players, at that. No matter how fractured the dressing room becomes, and no matter how bad certain players come to despise one another, that’s never going to translate into intentional losing.
We can safely say the same about Bruce Boudreau and his coaching staff employing any purposefully ineffective game strategies.
The decision to tank, then, falls on the shoulders of management, as it always does.
Traditionally, intentional tanking is brought about by the selling off of veterans, to be exchanged for future assets and replaced in the lineup by younger players.
With the Canucks, however, some of the most obvious sell-off pieces have also been their absolute worst players throughout 2022/23. If the team dumps off the likes of Tyler Myers, Tanner Pearson, Conor Garland, and especially Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Riley Stillman, are they really going to be worse off? Are they really going to lose more games if those folks have their minutes replaced by younger, more talented players like Vasily Podkolzin, Jack Rathbone, and Will Lockwood?
The only true tank-worthy moves available to Patrik Allvin and the Canucks’ front office would have to involve core, or at least semi-core, players.
Pending UFAs Bo Horvat and Andrei Kuzmenko are the most clear-cut candidates, and it’s quite easy to see how trading them would actually start to affect the Canucks’ chances on a game-by-game basis.
Other options include trading Brock Boeser or — if a buyer can still be found — the recently re-signed JT Miller.
Here, however, we run up against the ceiling of reality once again.
Canucks management have made their intentions to stick with this current core known. Boeser and Miller were re-signed, Kuzmenko was recruited, and the goal has reportedly always been to extend Horvat.
Should a six-week injury to Demko really change that plan so dramatically? And, if it does, is that anything other than a sign of rash decision-making still ruling the Vancouver front office?
Tanking, it seems, is still not a practical choice for the Vancouver Canucks.
But what if it wasn’t a choice?
The good news — or bad news, again, depending on one’s perspective — is that the Canucks might just find themselves falling flat for the Regina Pat despite their best efforts, especially with Demko out.
It’s no secret that the Canucks have already been struggling mightily through the first quarter-and-change of the 2022/23 campaign.
It’s also well understood that, despite his issues this year, Thatcher Demko was the team’s undisputed MVP last season. In fact, that’s putting in mildly. Demko was, straight-up, the only reason the team won a number of its games, and the only reason they stayed anywhere near the playoff hunt as long as they did.
Take that player away, even with that player not being at their best, and the odds get longer.
Look, Spencer Martin has been a fine backup. But recent efforts have shown signs of the wheels falling off and the bubble bursting on his string of strong performances, and that’s probably an inevitable outcome, given enough time.
Goalies come out of nowhere all the time, but that success is often short-lived. The chances of Martin appearing in the NHL at age 26 and suddenly becoming capable of shouldering a starter’s workload are, while not impossible, pretty darn slim.
The same can definitely be said for Collin Delia.
It’s very likely that the Canucks experience some goaltending issues of some sort over the next six weeks, and then where does that leave them?
Keep in mind that the Canucks already, as of this writing, have the seventh-worst record in the league. Keep in mind that they also have among the worst analytics, both as individuals and as a team, in the entire NHL, including the fifth-worst expected goals ratio.
On that note, actually, it’s worth mentioning that the one fancy stat in which the Canucks rank highly is “goals above expected,” where they’re third in the league.
That all adds up to the uncomfortable truth that, as bad as the Canucks have been, the numbers say that they should have been — and probably will be — worse.
And now, Demko is out, and any hopes of him returning to form and swooping in to salvage the season will have to be put on hold for another month or two.
Put it all together, and you’ll find there’s a very strong possibility that Demko returns in mid-to-late January to find that the Canucks have already fallen into too deep of a standings-hole to climb out of.
So, will the Canucks tank hard for Bedard without Demko in the lineup?
Probably, but not on purpose.
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