The 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks failure to achieve any kind of sustained accomplishment post-2011 is a sore point for everyone. The owners, the players, and of course the long-suffering fans are desperate for change. They may have to wait just a little longer.
Plenty of Blame for Past Canucks Failure
Say what you will about former general manager Jim Benning – and we’ve said plenty – he always tried to win. Unfortunately, he tried to win each year, every year, whether it was a rational thing to do or not. So when he was at long last replaced, some dared hope for a rebuild.
Getting a first-round pick and prospect for Bo Horvat was promising, after all. But when that pick and another went to the Detroit Red Wings soon after, there was a collective sigh. Filip Hronek is a good player, no actual complaints there. But a rebuild was – officially – out of the question.
As fans gather their strength for yet another season of “Watch us pull the playoffs out of a hat!” we’re here to remind them: it might not work. But even if it doesn’t, it ain’t all that bad. Every punch line needs a decent setup, after all.
Failing In Good Times
There was a certain amount of magic in the run Bruce Boudreau made with Vancouver in 2021-22. The chants, the scoring increase, the incredible run by Spencer Martin, of all people. It was a team – and town – that needed to have fun again. And it felt great!
The hangover that struck the following season started early. When President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford expressed disappointment that Boudreau was on a two-year deal, alarms went off. That warning was prescient.
Boudreau is a great player’s coach and one that was the perfect fit for a team needing a break. He tends towards a lot of improvising and leaning on veterans, which experienced players love. But teams need a lot of skill or a lot of discipline to work in his systems, and that didn’t describe the Canucks.
The Canucks failure was put on Boudreau’s shoulders, rightly or wrongly, and he was shown the door before his contract’s end.
When Boudreau was dismissed and Rick Tocchet brought in, the recurring theme was “systems”. It’s tough to gauge from half a season, but the results are hard to deny: in many ways, the team improved. And it wasn’t just getting Thatcher Demko back from injury.
Sure, they missed the playoffs by a margin of three teams and twelve points. And sure, the last two months of the schedule were always going to be the softest. It still feels good to go 10-3-2 in a month. Even if you’re riding your star goalie to do it.
The Infinity – And Beyond!
As seen with the addition of Pius Suter, General Manager Patrik Allvin has no intention of going slow. He and Rutherford and whoever else is giving their opinions recognize Vancouver’s weaknesses. And they moved to correct them.
In just the past year* Allvin has:
Not bad for a day’s work. That wholesale defence swap is serious, too. Should Tyler Myers also get moved before the season starts? Well, then there will be one player in the starting lineup who began the 2022-23 season in Vancouver. Indeed, only one who played 20 games with the Canucks.
This gives rise to what might not be a fair question but we’re going to ask it anyway. Is it the Canucks failure if Vancouver doesn’t make the playoffs this season?
There are, as you can guess from the last segment, a lot of questions around the 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks. How the excess of wingers can work. Whether Martin or Arturs Silovs or an as-yet-unknown player will emerge as a decent backup. Can the salary cap work if Tanner Pearson returns?
And, perhaps most importantly, will the brand new defence actually cohere in time? The season, once again, has a long and challenging road trip early. If the team stumbles so soon, ghosts of seasons not-that-far-past can haunt them.
But even if that happens, there can be good coming from the year. “Missing the playoffs” can happen in a variety of ways, after all. Succeed or fail, this year is going to be all about the how.
If the Western Conference is particularly challenging and the Canucks miss with 95 points, they still miss. We’re not going all “The Friends We Made Along The Way” with this. Missing the playoffs sucks, especially when half the league makes them.
No, if the 2023-24 Canucks failure includes things like an improved penalty kill reaching league average, that’s a plus that can carry over to 2024-25. The power play maintaining its position – even without Horvat – would also be solid.
Not everything will go right for Vancouver if they miss the playoffs, obviously. Injuries to key players, hitting hot goalies at the wrong time, even success but only against the wrong teams can doom them.
If they have a solid base to work from laid this year, with individual improvements from the right guys, it will help. If Vasily Podkolzin and/or Nils Höglander emerge, and Hronek proves to be worth a top pair spot, then there’s reason for optimism.
A couple decent trades for futures, and maybe one or two of the kids emerges with the new opportunities. Akito Hirose, or Jett Woo maybe. Could be that Aatu Räty shines, or Arshdeep Bains makes a strong argument to start 2024-25 in the NHL.
That optimism would be multiplied if Elias Pettersson inks a new, long-term deal. But no pressure, guys.
The Bad (Just Bad)
Now, we have no reason to think that the Vancouver Canucks will sneak into the playoffs if they play badly. Blind luck can only carry a team so far – something an 82-game season virtually guarantees. So if the Canucks failure is bad, it can be catastrophic.
To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, each failing team fails in its own way. This is where true variety lies. The new defence doesn’t gel. Even a few secondary guns go cold. Pettersson is openly unhappy. The backup goalies bomb out, or even worse, Demko does.
No need to dream of getting local hero Macklin Celebrini though, fans. There’s enough talent in Vancouver at a base level to ensure they don’t get that bad, and lotteries… Well, you know.
The worst result would be systemic failures. Whatever changes Tocchet wrought didn’t work. Unlucky turns to unhappy turns to fatalism turns to lethargic failure. The only solution is blowing it up and hoping to find another Demko, another Pettersson, another Quinn Hughes.