VANCOUVER – Quinn Hughes didn’t get what he wanted Tuesday night, but still got something he deserved.
The 22-year-old defenceman smashed a franchise scoring record that had stood for 35 years, but his accomplishment in the Vancouver Canucks’ 5-2 win against the Seattle Kraken was hollowed by the elimination of his team from the playoff race when the Dallas Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights in a Texas shootout hours earlier.
With two games remaining in their National Hockey League season, the Canucks are six points behind the Stars and won’t be able to catch them for the final wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Years from now, Hughes will appreciate eclipsing Doug Lidster’s record of 63 points in a single season for the Canucks. Then again, maybe he won’t, because coach Bruce Boudreau said last weekend that Hughes will break the record another five times before he’s finished playing.
But on Tuesday, mostly what he felt was disappointment, despite a three-point game that lifted him to 66 points, with games remaining Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings and Friday against the Edmonton Oilers.
“I'm definitely humbled right now,” Hughes said of the record after the Canucks failed for the sixth time in seven seasons to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament, despite going 31-15-9 since Boudreau took over the team on Dec. 5 “In my crazy mind, I have more goals that I want to do and I've just got to keep going. It's unfortunate that we miss the playoffs with Dallas winning. We pushed hard and I think we can go into next year and have a similar record and just go from there.
“It's definitely disappointing. But in saying that, I mean, we've got to be a little proud of ourselves the way we pushed the last four and a half months. And I think, for myself, I really do think that we can carry this into next year. I think our culture has really improved and guys really want to win and I think everyone can see it.”
Hughes moved past Lidster with the second assist on J.T. Miller’s goal just 3:34 into Tuesday’s game. He later assisted on defence partner Luke Schenn’s tap-in and ended the night by scoring on a beautiful feed from Conor Garland, who set up three goals and was the best Canuck.
Since returning April 9 from bronchitis, which forced him to miss two games and not more only because of the Canucks’ desperate playoff push, Hughes has three goals and 10 assists in eight games.
“I feel like my last 40 games have been the best in my career by a lot -- by a landslide,” Hughes said. “Just my overall game, not the points. There's still defencemen in the league that are better than me, and I want to be right up there with them. That's what I'm pushing for.”
It took the five-foot-10 defenceman from Michigan, via Toronto, just three seasons to beat a record that had stood since 1987. But really, what took him so long?
Hughes might have challenged Lidster’s mark had his rookie campaign two years ago not been halted at 69 games by the debut of COVID-19. Including the 17 playoff games Hughes logged that summer in the Edmonton bubble, he amassed 69 points in 85 games as a freshmen straight out of the University of Michigan.
That’s how good he was. How good he is.
In Saturday’s loss to the Calgary Flames, Hughes surpassed Dennis Kearns’ 1977 record of 55 assists in a season by a Vancouver blue-liner.
Boudreau said in January that Hughes was the best he has ever coached at his position, although the Canucks’ boss was a little more measured earlier this month when he reiterated that the agile defenceman is as good as any passer he has coached.
But Hughes was minus-24 last year during the pandemic season, and that old-school statistic scalded the new-age player who vowed to be better defensively this season. He told Sportsnet in November that he wouldn’t care if had zero points, as long as he didn’t get scored on.
He is plus-eight this year, and a lot of more advanced statistics validate the uptick in Hughes’ two-way game. Hughes’ goals-against-per-60-minutes has shrunk to 2.18 this season at five-on-five -- more than a puck better than his 3.27 mark last year.
Hughes also has a bigger role, killing penalties and defending leads.
“It sounds crazy, but I think I'm more satisfied about the plus/minus and my overall game than I am the points, honest to God,” he said. “The points are nice, but it was just such a hard year last year . . . being dash-24 -- and I took it personal. So this year, that's what I'm most happy about, to be honest.”
Hughes said players became aware after the first period that Dallas, which needed to lose in regulation for the Canucks to stay in the playoff race, had forced its game against Vegas into overtime.
About the only Canuck who was unaware was goalie Spencer Martin, called up from the minors to replace injured starter Thatcher Demko. Boudreau said after the morning skate that Demko has an “ouch” and that he is out day-to-day.
But the final three days of Vancouver’s season may belong to Martin, who was the organization’s fifth-string goalie when he joined the Canucks last summer. The 26-year-old played his way into the starter’s role in the American Hockey League with Abbotsford, and earlier this month signed a two-year, one-way contract with the Canucks. He is expected to be Demko’s backup next season.
“My goal is to be full-time (in the NHL) and obviously I'm not full-time right now,” Martin said after making 30 saves, a pile of them during Seattle’s eight power plays. “So just every chance that I get to play or practise with these guys, I'm trying to show that I can hang around and help them next year and going forward. I'm not taking anything for granted.”
After this season, none of the Canucks can afford to do that.