2021 Season For The Vancouver Canucks (What Went Wrong?)

February Failure:

The first half of the Vancouver Canucks season was reasonably positive. The team was carried offensively by names like Brock Boeser, JT Miller, Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes, and rookie standout Nils Hoglander who seemingly came out of nowhere. Thatcher Demko established himself as a top-notch #1 NHL goalie. At times supporting the entire team on his back multiple times throughout the season.

The month of January was particularly successful for the Canucks as the team posted seven victories over eleven games. This included a four-game winning streak to end the month. That all changed once the calendar turned to February…

The Canucks’ were exposed in February, with their defensive struggles on full display against superior opponents. The team recorded an abysmal record of 2-9-2. They recorded two separate losing streaks of four or more games and were limited to one or fewer goals on six separate occasions. They collected only six out of a possible 26 points, plummeting themselves to the bottom of their division.

Bottom Six, more like Bottom of the Barrel:

The bottom six for the majority of the Vancouver Canucks season was irrelevant, and that might be putting it nicely. The Canucks won most of their games because either the star players stole the show, or Thatcher Demko made 40+ saves in 2-1 type wins.

Throughout the 56 game season, head coach Travis Green dressed 14 different players in his bottom six. Those players combined for a whopping 51 points over that span. Aside from Tyler Motte who played only 24 games this year due to injury, every other position in the bottom six was up for grabs every night. However, no one was able to lock down a spot and make a significant, long-term contribution.

The Canucks’ third-line center issues continued to be a glaring problem. Before being traded at the deadline, forward Adam Gaudette only produced four goals and three assists in 33 games. This along with a minus 13 rating. Not exactly what you were expecting from a Hobey Baker Award-winning prospect. He was projected to correct the glaring hole in your lineup, and it was not for a lack of opportunity.

On paper Brandon Sutter performed as a slight upgrade, He recorded 12 points in 43 games, as well as a face-off winning percentage of 55%. He also spent time playing on the wing and had yet another season cut short by injury. The same goes for Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle, who missed a combined 47 games throughout the year.

Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd were a bust after being claimed off of waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs. They combined for just five points in 39 games. What’s even worse is that three of those five points happened in the last four games of the season. This is when the team was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

A sore eye on general manager Jim Benning has to be the obvious lack of production from the bottom six forwards. Along with that is a large amount of salary spread out among those specific players. Bottom six forwards with little to no production this season include Brandon Sutter, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Jake Virtanen. Those players’ salaries add up to a whopping $12.925 million. They contributed an embarrassing 26 points for the Canucks this season. Let’s not forget that Loui Erickson was on the team’s taxi squad the entire season riding a $6 million cap hit.

Through all of this, there were a couple of bright spots. Jayce Hawyrluk was able to do an adequate Tyler Motte impersonation. He provided energy at both even strength and on the penalty kill while Motte was out of the lineup. Tyler Graovac played the fourth line center role admirably and was able to record four points in 14 games.

Fans were able to get their first looks at some of the team’s highly touted prospects. This included Jonah Gadjovich, Kole Lind, and Will Lockwood. None of them made their way onto the scoresheet, but that wasn’t expected of them. These forwards were finally able to get their feet wet at the NHL level, and the fan base is hoping they can continue their development in the next Vancouver Canucks season.

Elias Pettersson Injury:

The 22-year-old star forward suffered a wrist injury on March 1st against the Winnipeg Jets. Pettersson was initially diagnosed as day-to-day, but he was eventually moved to injured reserve as his wrist never progressed. He remained on the injured list for the remainder of the Vancouver Canucks season. Pettersson only played in 26 games this season.

Pettersson did struggle to start the season prior to the injury, only recording two points in his first 8 games. He got back into form by putting up 19 points in his next 18 games, including five multi-point performances. Teams often don’t find success when relying on one player, but there’s no denying the value Pettersson brings to the team when he’s in the lineup.

Besides Pettersson, only six other players cracked the 20-point plateau on the team. Two of them came from the defense in Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers. With Pettersson not on the ice, head coach Travis Green was forced to juggle his top-six forwards. This resulted in lower-end players like Jimmy Vesey and Jake Virtanen getting more opportunities than they should have.

The powerplay also fell flat without the team’s elite sniper. The Canucks finished with the seventh-worst powerplay in the league, finishing with a 17% execution rate. The majority of the struggles can be blamed on poor zone entry and puck movement. It was very obvious that the team could’ve used Pettersson’s elite scoring ability. Of course, let’s not forget the seven-game stretch where the team went 0-for-21 on the powerplay.

To put all of that in context, the Canucks’ powerplay last year was the team’s anchor at times executing at 24% which was the fourth-best in the league. Pettersson contributed eight goals and 14 assists over that span.

Vancouver Canucks COVID-19 outbreak:

It’s not a stretch to say that the Vancouver Canucks had arguably the hardest-hitting COVID-19 outbreak throughout the league. Nineteen players, including the majority of their starting lineup, were on the NHL’s COVID protocol list at one point. Three players from the team’s taxi squad, three members of the coaching staff, and another staff member also tested positive for the virus.

The outbreak started back on March 30th when forward Adam Gaudette tested positive. As expected when the team returned to play after a 24-day layoff, they finished the season like a team that did not practice or play a real game situation for nearly a month. They were forced to play 19 games in 32 days. The Canucks finished the season with a record of 23-29-4 which landed them 7th in the NHL’s North Division.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak caused a major blow to the Canucks season, they were a competitive hockey team hovering around 4th place in the division and a playoff spot. After returning to play on April 18th, the Canucks limped to the finish line clearly feeling the effects of the layoff; only winning 7 of their last 19 games. They pulled out a few inspiring performances, but at the end of the day, they could not overcome the impact and ripple effect that the coronavirus had on the organization.