It would be easy to evaluate the Vancouver Canucks at the halfway mark — if only one knew which Canucks team they were evaluating. Are we looking at the Canucks that got off to a hot start, surprising everyone under new coach Willie Desjardins and new GM Jim Benning? Or are we talking about the team that has gone .500 since Dec. 2?
The good news is, Vancouver has been relatively steady through what we’d term a soft rebuild this season, and remains in a group of five or six teams vying for four playoff spots. The bad news is, there is a ton of work left, and likely another gear needed, to make the playoffs come April. So far though, so good.
Team Record: 23-12-3 (5th)
Goals for: 112 (15th)
Goals against: 100 (10th)
Power Play: 20.7% (9th)
Penalty kill: 87.5% (3rd)
Pre-season Cup odds: 33/1
Current Cup odds: 25/1
Best surprise: Tie — Radim Vrbata looked like a perfect fit for the Sedins, and with a team-leading 16 goals in Vancouver’s first half, he has been. And, if you thought that John Tortorella bore much of the responsibility for ruining Alex Edler last year, it turns out you were right. Edler is back to being very good.
Biggest disappointment: Zack Kassian is on his third coach now, and the guy ex-GM Mike Gillis dealt Cody Hodgson away for still can’t find his way into a regular role. Not sure he ever will, at this point.
Grade: With just five points in 19 games, he gets a D.
Forwards: A strong start from this group, but like the team they’ve tailed off a bit as the midway point of the season approaches. Nick Bonino made people quickly forget about Ryan Kesler, with seven early goals. He’s scored twice in his past 24 games now, and Bonino might be the key to the Canucks being more than a one-line team offensively.
Defence: The pairing of Chris Tanev and Edler has been awesome. The drop-off after that has been considerable, however. Losing Dan Hamhuis to injury has been crippling for Kevin Bieksa’s game, and like so many teams, this blue-line needs shoring up by playoff time.
Goaltending: Considering the distraction that has been the goaltending position in Vancouver for the past few years, just the fact it is not a daily drama rates a high grade. But other than a tough five-game stretch, Ryan Miller has been phenomenal. The goaltending in Vancouver is just fine, thanks. Move along folks, nothing to see here.
Coaching: After the debacle that was John Tortorella, a mannequin with a Sharpie would have been welcomed by the Canucks players. But Willie Desjardins is a street-smart, savvy coach who knew to include his players in the process. He’s done a wonderful job, and will improve as Benning works this roster.
Overall: The Canucks have punched above their weight so far, and appear able to deliver on what most Canucks fans would have considered acceptable this season. A team that’s fighting for a playoff spot, right down to the final week of the regular season.
Grade: Fans give an A. I give a B+