With 2018 almost officially in the rearview, we’re taking a look back at the best, worst and most memorable moments of the year for each Canadian NHL team.
Today, we give you the Vancouver Canucks.
1. The Green way
Coach Travis Green did a Q&A with Sportsnet on Feb. 11. After a 7-18-2 winter slump, it was clear the 2017–18 Canucks would not meet the organization’s objective of “playing meaningful games” in March.
Green provided a pretty good summary of his coaching ideals.
“I want us to push and continue to develop,” he said. “I want guys to strive to be on the team next year. And they’ve got to strive to be on a team that’s going to win. I’ve used a saying with our guys, ‘You’re either in or you’re in the way.’ When you’re in, I’m all in with you. And the guys that are in the way, those are players you have to go by. That’s building a team.
“You can’t just place a bunch of young guys in a lineup and expect you’ll become winners. As much as I love all the young guys we have coming, we’re going to have some who don’t play. That’s just reality. Some young guys aren’t going to make it, and we’ve got to make sure those who do are a big part of our turnaround.”
2. Don’t come home without a draft pick
Jim Benning has rarely been as unpopular as he was on Feb. 26, when the GM was unable to parlay trade rental Thomas Vanek into a draft pick at the deadline. With no other offers for the 34-year-old who had been on seven teams in four years, Benning sent him to Columbus for second-tier prospect Tyler Motte and contract-dump Jussi Jokinen.
Benning was criticized in the media and eviscerated on social media for failing to pry a draft pick from someone for Vanek. One season later, however, the 23-year-old Motte has become a lineup regular for Green, who believes the fourth-liner has enough skill to graduate to a secondary-scoring role if he continues to develop.
3. Draft is back
On Feb. 28, the NHL awarded the Canucks the 2019 entry draft. Vancouver, site of the 1990 and 2006 talent lotteries, celebrates its 50th NHL season in 2019–20.
4. Back breaker for Boeser and Canucks
Winger Brock Boeser’s wonderful season ended abruptly on March 5 when he suffered a broken bone in his lower back after getting launched into the door frame at the players’ bench by New York Islanders winger Cal Clutterbuck:
In a season with many lows for the Canucks, this was one of the worst. After inspiring more excitement on the West Coast than any rookie since Pavel Bure in 1991, Boeser’s first NHL season was over after 62 games, 29 goals and 55 points.
In his first interview, one month after the injury, Boeser told Sportsnet: “It was hard, especially because I love the game so much and I never want to miss any games. But I’ve got to look at the other side of it. I am pretty lucky because that injury could have ended my career, honestly.”
Recovery from the broken bone spur attached to his L4 vertebrae, and from a lingering wrist injury, prevented Boeser from starting to fully train until July and he was clearly behind others when training camp opened in September.
5. Magical end to Sedinery
After reports in January that Daniel and Henrik Sedin wanted to play another season in Vancouver, the 37-year-old twins announced on April 2 that they would retire after the Canucks’ final three games.
It unleashed a torrent of emotions among players and fans, and made what would have been a fairly forgettable final week of the season one of the most memorable in franchise history. Fittingly, the last time they ever touched the puck on home ice, Henrik set up Daniel for an overtime winner on April 5 against the Arizona Coyotes:
Two nights later, in a game that began under the pall of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy, the Sedins ended their 18-year careers with the Canucks in Edmonton, where they were honoured by Oiler players and their fans.
Unbelievably, Henrik nearly scored the overtime winner on a pass from Daniel, but had his shot toward a semi-open net deflected away by Edmonton defenceman Kris Russell. The Oilers won 3-2 in a shootout that saw Daniel score and Henrik miss.
The Sedins’ last skate as NHL players was back to the players’ bench to hug their children, who had been invited there by coach Green to watch their dads in the shootout. In the dressing room, the Sedins’ handed the game puck to teammate Derek Dorsett, who had been forced by a back injury to suddenly retire in November and never got a game to say goodbye.
“When I had to chase (Connor) McDavid on that four-on-four, that was it,” Daniel said. “It’s a fast league now. I think we can still play, but I think it’s time for the young guys to take over.”
6. Another losing ticket
The NHL’s draft-lottery system kicked the Canucks again on April 28, as Vancouver fell to seventh from sixth in the draft order. It actually felt like a victory because the franchise was punted to fifth from second and third the previous two lotteries.
7. Another Canuck named Quinn
The Canucks finally got some luck to go their way at the entry draft on June 22, as dynamic University of Michigan defenceman Quinn Hughes fell into their grateful arms at No. 7. The Canucks have lacked a fleet defenceman who can drive offence and run a power play for most of their 48 years in the NHL.
“Growing up in Toronto, hockey is all they talked about on the radio and most of the time it was negative,” Hughes, who is American, told Sportsnet. “But my dream was to play in a hockey market, and there’s no better place to do it than in Vancouver. I know how passionate the city is and how hungry they are for a championship. I’m really excited.”
8. Free-agent frenzy
After eight happy days basking in the glow of a positive draft, Canuck Nation exploded again like Krakatoa when the team signed depth forwards Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller to free-agent contracts on July 1. Beagle, 33, and Roussel, 28, got four-year, $12-million (USD) contracts that bewildered many people in hockey.
“That’s the market,” Benning said. “We’ve signed these guys to support our young players, not stand in their way. We’ve drafted skill, and they’re going to be put in skill positions to score. We just wanted to make sure the rest of the lineup is filled out with guys that add to the leadership of our group, and you know what you’re going to get from them every night.”
9. An emperor deposed
In the most surprising moment of the Canucks’ year, the team sent out a press release on July 25 to say president of hockey operations Trevor Linden and the franchise had “amicably agreed” to part ways.
But owner Francesco Aquilini tweeted: “Everybody needs to be united behind the same vision and pulling in the same direction.” It was immediately clear Linden’s shocking departure four years into what had become a promising rebuild was far from amicable.
Linden and the Aquilini family clashed ideologically. But Jim Benning vehemently denied a Toronto Sun report that he and assistant GM John Weisbrod conspired with ownership against Linden.
Benning told Sportsnet: “I had a good relationship with Trevor. He hired me as a GM and he extended my contract. I’m grateful to Trevor. If people think I had anything to do with Trevor leaving, that’s just wrong.
“I don’t know what happened between Trevor and ownership and it’s not my place to ask. I’ve never been into politics. I have a hard enough time finding a defenceman who can help our power play.”
10. Pre-season like last season
The Canucks completed a dismal 1-6 pre-season with a 4–1 loss to Arizona on Sept. 27. They were outscored 30–10 and none of their prospects other than Swedish phenom Elias Pettersson made a push for NHL playing time.
“We can’t dwell on this,” centre Bo Horvat said. “These games don’t count right now and we’re going to have to come to play the ones that matter.”
11. No captain my captain
The Canucks announced Oct. 2 that the team would go without a captain for 2018–19. Fifth-year pro Horvat, widely viewed as the successor to Henrik Sedin as captain, was one of four players awarded an “A.”
12. See, it was only pre-season
Surprising everyone, including the Calgary Flames, the Canucks opened with an impressive 5-2 win on Oct. 3. Vancouver scorers were Pettersson, 19, Motte, 23, Nikolay Goldobin, 22, Brendan Leipsic, 24 and Jake Virtanen, 22
The goal that had everyone buzzing was Pettersson’s, as the 19-year-old disguised his shot before firing a rocket under the bar in his NHL debut.
“I got a blackout, I was so happy,” he said. “It didn’t feel it was real at first. It was an amazing feeling, a feeling I will never forget.”
13. For the love of Pete
With fans head-over-heels in love with Pettersson, the centre suffered a concussion on Oct. 13 when brutally thrown to the ice in Florida by Panthers defenceman Michael Matheson:
Canuck Nation exploded with anger — much of it directed at its own team for not attacking Matheson.
But Canucks players did not see how Pettersson was injured behind the play in the third period and coach Travis Green instructed them to focus on the game, which Vancouver won 3–2 to complete a rare Sunshine State sweep.
Criticism and public debate are so intense that two days later, Green starts a post-practice press conference in Pittsburgh with a voluntary, four-minute explanation about the events in Florida and the team and culture he is trying to build.
Winger Roussel said: “Retribution, it probably lasts for a week or so. But missing the playoffs lasts for a whole summer if you lose games like that because you are stupid. You’ve got to be really careful about what happens. It’s a 3-2 game. It’s not really the time to go out there and just go crazy.
“If you think your teammates are not there for you, you don’t play team sports. You play tennis, you play ping pong, golf. But as soon as you play team sports, you believe the guys are going to have your back 99 per cent of the time. But when nobody sees it, nobody sees it. Everybody is looking for somebody to blame, but sometimes there’s nobody to blame.”
Pettersson missed six games, but scored another five goals in his first five games back and is still named NHL rookie of the month for October.
14. Good start, bad injuries
When shutdown centre Brandon Sutter fell into the boards against Minnesota on Oct. 29 and dislocated his shoulder, he became the sixth Canucks regular to suffer a significant injury in the opening month. Most are key players: first-line wingers Boeser (groin) and Sven Baertschi (concussion), top defenceman Alexander Edler (knee), checking centre Beagle (arm) and backup goalie Anders Nilsson (finger).
15. That’s “Pettersson,” with 2 Ts, 2 Ss and 5 points
If the rest of the hockey world didn’t already know about Pettersson, it found out when the rookie had two goals and five points in a 7-6 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 2 in one of the most entertaining games at Rogers Arena in years. Linemate Boeser had two goals and two assists.
But Boeser also aggravated his sore groin, and left the lineup for the second time. By Nov. 10, Canuck injuries had reached a critical mass and the team began a 1-10-2 freefall in the standings.
16. A present from the future
In his sixth game back from injury on Dec. 9, Boeser scored his second NHL hat trick in a 6–1 road win against the St. Louis Blues. Pettersson added a goal and four first assists, becoming the first Canuck since Alex Mogilny in 1995-96 to record multiple five-point games in the same season. It was Pettersson’s 26th NHL game.