Come to think of it, one thing should help the other. The Canucks, for all their talk about the National Hockey League playoff race and promising to be better on Wednesday than were in Tuesday’s slow-start victory over the dreadful Arizona Coyotes, were exposed and embarrassed by the Islanders.
The New York team that was within one win of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final last season overwhelmed Canucks starter Jaroslav Halak, pumping in five goals in the first 17 minutes before absorbing a lot of pressure from the Canucks in a 6-3 victory at Rogers Arena.
The game started a couple of hours after Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman reported that U.S. hockey legend Cammi Granato would become the third assistant general manager hired since Jim Rutherford became Canucks president on Dec. 10.
It’s another step in the regime change in Vancouver. But building a team is harder than building a management group.
Coach Bruce Boudreau, hired just before Rutherford, called Tuesday’s scoreless first period against the Coyotes the poorest he has seen from the Canucks.
“Evidently, I was wrong last night,” Boudreau told reporters late Wednesday. “You give up five goals in a period, I mean, there's not too many good things to say. It's crazy but they looked twice as fast as we did in the first period. I thought in the second period, we looked a lot faster than them. We've just got to be ready to play. I can't explain it any better than that.”
By the second period, the damage was done and so extensive, the Canucks couldn’t repair it -- despite dominating for much of the final 43 minutes.
The Islanders scored five goals before the Canucks had five shots. Markers by Zach Parise, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Casey Cizikas and Mat Barzal chased Halak from the Vancouver net by 16:19 of the opening period. Halak made seven saves.
“Obviously not acceptable by us not being ready to go,” captain Bo Horvat said. “We knew they were going to come (hard) and we weren’t ready for it. Arguably, the last two periods. . . were some of our best periods since Bruce came. But, obviously, there are no moral victories tonight.”
Canucks No. 1 goalie Thatcher Demko, who was supposed to have the night off after making 35 saves in the 5-1 win against Arizona, played the final 43 minutes. He will have time to rest before Vancouver plays next against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. And the Leafs have been significantly better than the Islanders this season.
Halak’s 10th game of the season triggered a $1.25-million-US bonus for the veteran goalie, which means he made about $78,000 per minute on Tuesday before he was hooked by Boudreau.
But Halak’s bonuses are payable after the season and, theoretically, can still be passed on to another team in trade. The Canucks badly want to avoid an overage of $1.5 million in dead cap space next season for Halak’s bonuses -- he’ll also earn $250,000 if he finishes the year with a save rate of .905 or better – but the 36-year-old has a no-movement clause and is believed to be unwilling to waive it before the March 21 trade deadline.
Given his experience and ability, Halak would be an attractive pickup for a playoff team looking to upgrade goaltending. But his cap obligation next season, after he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, will be another significant trade impediment.
ANOTHER HISTORIC HIRE
The Canucks are expected to officially announce Thursday the addition of Granato to Rutherford’s large management team.
The former U.S. Olympian, who lives in Vancouver and was a pro scout the last two years with the Seattle Kraken, will be the second woman hired by the Canucks in a senior hockey-operations role. Player agent Emilie Castonguay was hired as an AGM on Jan. 24 to oversee the Canucks’ contract work and salary cap.
Between those two hires, Patrik Allvin became the first Swedish general manager in the NHL when he was named to that post by Rutherford, who promoted Stan Smyl to vice-president of hockey operations and retained Henrik and Daniel Sedin as senior advisers, and Ryan Johnson as director of player development.
The Canucks president has fulfilled his Camelot-like vision for a diverse hockey-operations staff comprised of people with varying paths through hockey. The franchise has probably never had such a large hockey-ops group, and possibly never one with less hands-on NHL management experience.
But Rutherford told Sportsnet in December when he laid out his vision: “Even when I talk directly to some of these (management candidates), they will say: ‘Well, I haven't done this, I haven't negotiated contracts.’ None of us had done anything at one point in our careers. None of us had ever done a contract, none of us had ever dealt with the salary cap. You have to start some time.
“Part of me being in Vancouver and taking this job is to mentor people. I think it's an advantage for our organization to bring certain people in that maybe don't have a lot of experience, but they're smart and they know the game. And their input is going to be heard. As each day goes by, they'll learn things.”
PETTERSSON LIKE “OLD SELF”
Nobody on the Canucks was good in the first period, but Elias Pettersson was outstanding in the final two. The star centre, who struggled through the opening half of the season, skated miles with and without the puck, was physically engaged and dangerous any time he was in the offensive zone.
He also scored by boldly taking the puck to the net between Islanders defencemen Zdeno Chara and Ryan Pulock, giving Pettersson seven goals and 10 points in his last 11 games.
After the Canucks’ optional morning skate, Pettersson told reporters: “I feel more in the game. When you score, you get a confidence boost. You feel good. I've been feeling good for a while now. I feel like me again -- not overthinking. I'm just playing and getting back to my old self, I'd say.”
But Pettersson skated again with wingers Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander on Vancouver’s third line. He’ll truly be his old self when he has played his way back to the top of Boudreau’s lineup, is logging 20 minutes alongside J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser and is at the centre of everything.
Boudreau said before the game that Pettersson’s hot streak was “long overdue.”
“He's a great player; he's got to produce,” the coach said. “He's picking this time and that's great. We'll take it whenever we can get it. But, I mean, he's the kind of guy that you expect production from on a nightly basis, so it's good that he's doing it (now).”