Look, I had to pick someone. This division is sadness. If the NHL had relegation, at least three-quarters of the league would probably be booted before the season started, just to save the time and travel costs. So, really, no one has expectations that I can bust. Vegas doesn’t even really have to be good, or awake, or even ambulatory, and still could sleepwalk to the conference final here. People think the Kraken will be good simply because the Knights were, but no one who actually looks at the roster and discovers there’s barely a top six there thinks so. Meanwhile, anyone outside of Anaheim and San Jose is probably sketching out a way their team could make the playoffs, and that includes Vancouver. I’m guessing. Canucks fans can be a pretty morose bunch, and whatever optimism they used to have has been used as a Kleenex by GM Jim Benning. But you can make a case for them grabbing one of the spots behind the Knights as much as you can the Oilers, or Flames, or Kings. I guess. Whatever, let’s flame the Canucks because it’s fun.
Why people are high on them: It would be rooted in the fact that they do have two of the most exciting young players in the game, whom they did manage to re-sign during camp and get in under the salary cap somehow, in the forms of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. Pettersson was a point-per-game guy in his first two seasons before a wrist injury wrecked his 2021 campaign. It’s hard to find a more exciting playmaker than Pettersson, and with Brock Boeser on his wing, he has someone to regularly finish the chances he can create on a whim.
Hughes was one of the premier puck-moving defenseman in his first two years, though he took something of a step back last season. He was Makar-level, though, in getting his team out from their zone to the other guys’ and creating chances when he got them there. Hughes took something of a step back last year, which the entire team kind of did because of COVID outbreaks and other misfortune.
And maybe that’s why some have hope for the Canucks. Last year was wrecked by the virus, and when the season before was stopped due to the pandemic, the Canucks were in a playoff spot. There has to be a rebound from last year simply because. And with Boeser, Pettersson, and Hughes, there’s possibility for growth.
Why they’ll disappoint: It jumps off the roster page when you look at it, but good god is this blue line an affront to nature, the Lord, and quite possibly several other deities from other cultures. There might be an air quality warning over most of B.C. this season thanks to the pungence of this group.
The Canucks traded for Oliver Ekman-Larsson, perhaps so they could get Conor Garland, and this likely will be a huge balls-up. OEL has been declining, and heavily, for a few years now, and the Canucks will still count on him for at least top four minutes. Larsson’s possession metrics the past three seasons in Arizona were ghastly — even well below the putrid rate for the Coyotes as a team — and that’s without any change in how he was deployed. You can actually see this guy degrade with your eyes and eyes alone.
Tyler Myers has been a vaudevillian slapstick act for his entire career, but keeps getting a pass for being 6-foot-7. Or something, I can’t figure out why most of the hockey world hasn’t figured out this guy is a total dingus. Yes he’s big, but so are the spaces that he leaves vacated behind him on a nightly basis, which opposing forwards have been holding a nonstop rave in for years.
There was a time that Travis Hamonic was a top-pairing player for the Islanders. That was at least six years ago, and Flames fans were happy to shut down the rest of the airport to make sure his flight out of town took off without interruption. I don’t know what a Tucker Poolman is and I don’t care.
The Canucks had better pray that either or both of Jack Rathbone or Olli Juolevi can quickly develop and knock these giblets down the lineup or into the pressbox. Because if they don’t, Thatcher Demko is going to be seeing a ton of rubber and we have no idea how he’ll do with that. Demko was fine last season in his first as a starter, while seeing 33 shots per game. And he saved 6.8 goals over expected. He’s good, but is he good enough to put out the raging inferno that’s likely to develop in front of him on a nightly basis? That’s a herculean ask.
Up front, the Canucks need Garland to be the first Coyote ever to escape Arizona and then prove to be worth a shit, because if he’s not they have a top line and not much else.
The hope is built on the fact that this division is just so dogshit. But the Canucks might be adding to the dogshittiness of it, rather than benefiting from the heap.