The dam burst for the Canucks on Sunday, weeks of bad bounces washed away by a rare flood of offence. The power play clicked, the bottom-end of the lineup contributed and the club could’ve scored more. You can tell it’s the Canucks night offensively when all of Adam Cracknell, Chris Tanev and Radim Vrbata find the back of the net.
Sunday’s clear victory came as a huge relief for a club that has managed points in just four of its past 11 games, but it doesn’t change the reality that this iteration of the Canucks is almost certainly not a playoff team.
It speaks volumes that even in a game in which the Canucks scored five-goals and played as well as they have in months, goaltender Ryan Miller was a deserving first star.
“He was playing one hell of a game…” Canucks winger Jannik Hansen said of Miller. “He did everything right. When we were outplayed, outmanned, he found a way to make a save.”
On a night when everything went right for the Canucks, they were still outplayed and outmanned too often.
“We played well defensively even though we gave up a couple too many Grade-A chances,” understated Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. “But we played better and that’s the way we have to play.”
As much as the Canucks and their fans needed a win at Rogers Arena – this building hadn’t seen one since Jan. 11 – at this point in the season, Vancouver’s management team can’t allow a run of short-term success to influence their deadline day posture.
If there was a silver lining to the Vancouver Canucks’ pre-trade deadline death spiral, it’s that the club’s struggles left no sense of ambiguity. And no matter how well the club played on Sunday, or how formidable they prove in two remaining games before the deadline, this is an organization that needs to seize this opportunity to accelerate their restocking efforts.
Because this Canucks management team has never publicly wavered from their commitment to qualify for the post-season, the club’s lottery-bound status will be portrayed as a failure. In a league that rewards on-ice ineptitude with better lottery odds and higher draft picks though, it isn’t necessarily, not in the big picture.
For a transitioning club that is still too thin on high-end talent, a losing season is a necessary evil. It’s why the Canucks have to avoid overreacting to Sunday’s victory, or even a run of dominant performances should they string several victories together before next Monday’s deadline.
We’d do well to remember that as hopeless as things have seemed for the Canucks over the past few weeks, there are a number of genuine bright spots here.
Vancouver’s defensive depth has been exposed since Alexander Edler broke his fibula two weeks ago, but the Canucks’ youthful top pair of Ben Hutton, 22, and Chris Tanev, 26, had another strong game on Sunday – capably handling Matt Duchene’s shifty cycle-game down low and mostly neutering Nathan MacKinnon’s uncanny speed. In heavy usage since the Edler injury, the Canucks have only surrendered a single 5-on-5 goal with the youthful Hutton-Tanev pairing on the ice.
“The one thing I really like about Hutton is when it gets tough he plays better, he doesn’t shy away from it – he wants to be the guy,” Desjardins said on Sunday.
Up front, Henrik and Daniel Sedin are still capable of working their magic on occasion; the twins put on a vintage performance against Colorado on Sunday, combining for seven points.
Meanwhile the secondary scoring line of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Jake Virtanen – none older than 22 – are manufacturing offensive pressure, scoring chances and goals at an exceedingly promising rate.
“Maybe it’s a line that can grow together a little bit,” Desjardins said Sunday, “we’re hoping that.”
When you look at the young talent already on the roster and some of the fundamentals, it appears that this organization is well positioned to rebuild relatively quickly – if they’re willing to be aggressive now.
Though the sinking value of the Canadian dollar has ushered in a new era of cautious spending and salary cap uncertainty, the Canucks are still poised to have significant cap space this summer. That could prove to be a double edged sword, of course, but it offers the club flexibility.
And in team president Trevor Linden, the Canucks have a uniquely credible salesman in place to peddle patience and hope in a marketplace that has – in the past and throughout this season – proven skeptical of supporting teams that aren’t winners.
Now, what this all means for the upcoming week remains to be seen. Pending unrestricted free agents like Dan Hamhuis and Vrbata could net the club significant futures if they’re dealt, but their respective situations are complicated by injuries and no-trade clauses.
Can the club find Brandon Prust a new NHL home? Will they consider dealing a productive player with term, like Hansen?
It’s a fool’s game to project what Canucks management will be able to accomplish between now and the deadline. There’s nothing straightforward about navigating a barren marketplace with assets that have some measure of control over their own destiny.
What’s readily apparent though is that no matter how the team performs on the ice between now and Feb. 29 the Canucks have to try and be busy on deadline day; sellers for the first time since the turn of the century.