Oh, Whale!

Oh, Whale!
(Vancouver Canucks Breakdown)


By Amy Pan, with contributions from Charlize Dang

February 20th, 2016


When was the last time I felt true joy watching a Vancouver Canucks game? 2011?

There’s no amount of puns that can cover up the issue that is the Vancouver Canucks — who are beginning to seem more like the Vancouver Cannots. There’s two sides to every story, though, so hold on to your blue, green, and white hats as I, an avid yet anguished fan, break this down.

The current situation this team is ensnared in may be lengthy to explain and blurry at the edges, but can be briefly put into focus with the numbers 5 and 2 — outshot 38-19 by Toronto (who are dead last in the league) in a 5-2 loss, outshot 34-26 by Minnesota in a 5-2 loss, outshot 33-21 by Anaheim in another 5-2 loss, and outshot 33-28 by Calgary in, guess what, another 5-2 loss. Brutal.

We’ve been unable to string 3 wins together this entire season. The only team who shares this less-than-honourable title are the Winnipeg Jets, who are currently last in the Central Division. With 7 regulation wins in the past 35 games, snide comments from rival fans about the Vancouver “Cansucks” might even be expected.

Jannik Hansen, Canucks right winger, told postgame reporters that “We knew we had to match their work ethic if we want to compete with them and we didn’t.” He’s right. We didn’t. Now, the question is: why?

First and foremost, there are evident holes in our game. Our fruitless power plays and outrageous own goals can possibly be credited to a wistfully consistent lack of momentum. We can’t seem to start or end a game well, and we’re not scoring very much, either.

Furthermore, there are problems within the roster. Management’s attempts to fill the team with younger players — out with the old, in with the new! — may be working, but it’s also capsizing the age balance. On the one hand, you have rookie 19-year-old Jake Virtanen; and on the other sits a nearly 36-year-old Sedin. There aren’t enough in the middle to equalize the mix of fresh blood and veteran knowledge.

We also need more scoring from the blue line. Currently, the Canucks only have 14 goals from our defensemen in total, a number that is one of the worst out of the league’s 30 teams. For contrast, think of certain defensemen like Brent Burns from the San Jose Sharks and Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes, who have more goals by themselves than the entire Canucks defensemen put together.

Unfortunately for us, there are no ‘all-star’ players on this team either. The Sedins, though phenomenal during our 2011 playoff run, are no longer in their prime. The Swedish twins turn 36 this coming September, and although their numbers aren’t necessarily disappointing, especially considering their age — 49 points for Daniel and 42 points for Henrik, which translates to 21st and 54th out of all league players — you can’t deny that this pales in comparison to Daniel’s unforgettable 104 points in 2010-2011 and Henrik’s league-leading 112 points in 2009-2010.

34-year-old Radim Vrbata was promising in his Canuck debut last season; unfortunately, he is starting to fade out. Last year he played extraordinarily on the Sedins’ first line but Coach Desjardins’ decision to put him on a different line this year might be what’s heavily affecting his lackluster scoring this year. We’ll never forget all the fun we had with Vrbata the Cat Man (Google it, you won’t be disappointed); however, sentimentality and memes aside, Canucks fans should emotionally prepare themselves in case Cat Man gets traded.

Similarly, there’s also a lack of scoring with Alex Burrows, who only has 7 goals this season, 11 less than what he had last season. Fans are whispering about a dreaded but very likely trade with Burrows, who, to many, is still a friendly, valiant reminder of the better 2011 days.

Luca Sbisa, at age 26, hasn’t crossed into General Manager Jim Benning’s “Getting Old, Therefore Must Trade” territory yet; additionally, considering that his recent plays haven’t been terrible, there’s no paramount need to trade Sbisa to work on rebuilding the team. However, his contract is also rather ridiculous for his calibre of play; it’s like paying for an all-day parking pass but only getting two hours’ worth of parking before getting towed. Basically.

Matt Bartkowski has a +/- of -17, which puts him tied for 7th worst in the league. “The biggest strength of his game in how he skates,” says Coach Desjardins. That’s not exactly what we’re seeing though, when Bart ‘scores’ more goals on our net than our opponent’s net. In his defense (pun intended), many of the own goals aren’t solely due to his own indiscretions.

In a financial perspective, problems also lie with ticket profit and the Canucks’ home venue, Rogers Arena. Tickets are ostensibly not selling as fast as they should be. Partial fault should fall on the arena executives; they “micromanaged” the venue to the point where each game’s playlist is the same and where entertainment between periods isn’t always enough to keep fans in their seats. Even that T-shirt gun won’t suffice in the end.

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Although the positive aspects of this team currently aren’t highlighted very much by the media, it still continues to shine. Our goalies, Markstrom and Miller, aren’t playing inadequately. GIF sets of Markstrom’s astonishing glove save against Calgary the other night are mesmerizing and his consistent effort and positivity, both on and off the ice, should be commended.

The ‘kid’ line, with forwards Baertschi, Horvat, and Virtanen, has been playing exceptionally. It’s thrilling to watch them play; they’re fast-paced, and, woah, they score goals! They also have great chemistry and communication, and the magic they create out on the ice allows fans to see a glimpse into the future of the Canucks. Virtanen’s amazing wrister goal in Calgary’s Saddledome Arena, the rink where he played in Juniors for the Calgary Hitmen, definitely made a splash in the media.

29-year-old Danish Jannik Hansen is a force to be reckoned with. Freelance writer Wyatt Arndt from Vancity Buzz writes: “he’s gritty, he’s fast, he can score, and he talks really funny. What’s not to love?” He’s fantastic on the first line with the Sedins right now, and ranks third in points out of all current Canucks. As a player who started the season as less than outstanding, Hansen has definitely started to give fans something to talk about. His mind-blowing, one-handed, backward pass to Cracknell during the game against Calgary on Friday foreshadows what’s to come.

Never fear, prospects are here! Or coming soon, anyway. Thatcher Demko, a beneficial goaltender currently with Boston College, has a .936% save percentage and 9 incredible shutouts so far. He’s matched many records previously held by Cory Schneider; and look where Cory is now — an all-star goaltender with a .929% save percentage. Brock Boeser, drafted 23rd overall by Vancouver last year, is a powerful asset for the University of North Dakota, and currently has 33 points in 29 games. Metro News writes that Hunter Shinkaruk and Brendan Gaunce, both with Vancouver’s AHL affiliate team Utica Comets, “are on a roll”. Shinkaruk, a first-round draft pick by the Canucks in 2013, leads the Comets in points, with Gaunce at a close second.

Finally, the 2016 NHL Draft is around the corner, and the name circulating teams and fans alike is Auston Matthews. With nimble skating and powerful goal scoring, he is the projected number one draftee this year. To have a more superior chance to acquire the top pick, we’d need to be in at least the bottom three in the league. Right now, our chances at making the playoffs are 12.5%, the highest out of all Canadian teams, while our chances at obtaining a top-five pick are 37%.

Fans everywhere are torn between two decisions: do we purposefully tank to try to snag Auston Matthews, or do we continue to push for the playoffs? What to do, what to do…

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It has never been easy being a Vancouver Canucks fan. From the 2011 Stanley Cup riots to the Ryan Kesler trade, and from a change of head coach to strings of tough losses, our experiences with cheering for this team both in the stands and behind our televisions have been tumultuous to say the least. A brighter future is fast upon us and holds promises of another Cup run.

For now, however, Canucks fans will be on board one of three trains: the one driving towards Auston Matthews, the one gunning to enter the playoffs, and the one swerving between these two in grave confusion. That said – never underestimate the strength of this city and the tenacity of those guys in blue, green, and white.

In the end, we are all Canucks.