Weekend Takeaways: How the Canucks plumbed new depths, while Hyman hits new heights

Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s easy to look at the state of the Vancouver Canucks and shake your head. If you want to up the befuddlement level, though, consider four fantastic things that happened to this team in consecutive years.

In 2017, the Canucks finished second-to-last in the league, took a kick from the lottery balls in the — well, you know — and dropped to the fifth-overall slot. Once there, they drafted a skinny Swedish kid who fast became known as one of best players in the world outside the NHL and lived up to the hype once he entered the league.

Twelve months later, the lottery once again did Vancouver no favours and, once again, it did not matter as they drafted a defenceman at seventh overall who’s a point-per-game player in his fourth NHL season.

At the 2019 draft, the Canucks — to the chagrin of many in the moment — traded a future first-rounder for a strong two-way player who suddenly became 80 per cent more productive than he’d ever been in his career upon pulling on a Vancouver sweater at age 26.

So it stands to reason that, in 2020, Vancouver won two post-season rounds and ousted the St. Louis Blues in the bubble playoffs.

All of this is to say, you find franchise cornerstones like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes in the five-to-10 range of the NHL draft, acquire J.T. Miller just before he becomes a completely different player, and show you’ve got the stuff to knock off a defending Stanley Cup champion in the playoffs, man oh man, you’ve really got to screw the other stuff up for things to go this bad.

It’s difficult to wrap your head around how things became so rotten in Vancouver, but it’s nearly impossible when you consider the Canucks have also acquired foundational pieces a lot of other clubs could only dream of.

If you want to take the rosiest of views, and, understandably, not many are in the wake of Bruce Boudreau’s slow-motion firing and the organization still signalling it doesn’t want a true rebuild, you could cling to the fact that Pettersson and Hughes are good enough that if you even start doing a little better around the edges, there’s a path to respectability.

But nothing makes sense around this club right now. And odd as it is to say about a franchise in this situation, it might have used all its good luck on players who are already there.

Other Takeaways

• As you’d expect, the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are driving the recent success of the Colorado Avalanche, as the defending champs won their fifth straight contest with a 2-1 shootout victory over the no-joke Seattle Kraken on Saturday. Another name that’s entered the chat? Third-line centre Alex Newhook. The 16th overall pick from 2019 scored the Avs’ only regulation-time goal versus the Kraken and has five points in his past five outings. Now in his second full season after leaving Boston College, the Newfoundlander seems to be finding his footing. Obviously losing Nazem Kadri was a huge blow for the Avs, but J.T. Compher’s career year and Newhook starting to assert himself certainly helps Colorado up the middle. Sure, they’ll probably still look long and hard at a range of pivot options before the trade deadline, but the non-Nathan MacKinnon centres they already have are doing all they can to prove their worth.

• Connor McDavid earned his 40th goal of the season on Saturday and Zach Hyman drew the only assist — and a beauty, at that — on the tally. Hyman then went on to record three more points in the 4-2 win over Vancouver, giving him four on the night; and 12 (!) in his past five games. OK, so Hyman is on an absurd heater right now, but we have to point out a couple things: First off, the guy who signed a huge free-agent deal with the Oilers in 2021 has already surpassed his point total from last year (56 in 47 games this season compared to 54 in 76 last year). Also, just for fun, it’s worth noting the man celebrated more for hustle more than pure skill has the same amount of points this year as Maple Leaf Mitch Marner, also known as the guy who leads Hyman’s former team in scoring.

• From Phil Esposito scoring twice on goalie Tony Esposito during the latter’s NHL debut, to Keith and Wayne Primeau fighting in the mid-1990s, to every single time a Sutter played another Sutter, there’s a long, wonderful history of brothers making life difficult on each other in the NHL. The parental reaction to Ottawa’s Mathieu Joseph and Pittsburgh’s Pierre-Oliver Joseph getting penalties on the same play Friday night in Pittsburgh was priceless.

Weekend Warrior

The Carolina Hurricanes needed a pick-me-up after Max Pacioretty tore his Achilles tendon (such awful news for the player and team) on Thursday night. Captain Sebastian Aho stepped up on Saturday, scoring a natural hat trick in a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders, with the final tally sliding into an empty cage.

Red and White Power Rankings

1. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-11-8) After losing to the Habs in Montreal on Saturday, the Leafs will play eight of their next nine games at home, including four this week.

2. Winnipeg Jets (31-16-1) Three goals in two weekend wins for Mark Scheifele, who is basically on pace for an even 50 right now.

3. Edmonton Oilers (27-18-3) We’re so accustomed to rolling our eyes at all things All-Star Game related that you forget how awesome it is for a guy like Stuart Skinner to go. The rookie — who became a dad just a few weeks ago and also recently inked a three-year extension with the Oilers — picked up a win on Saturday in his first start since Jan. 7.

4. Calgary Flames (22-16-9) Another two points for Tyler Toffoli on Saturday, including the goal that pulled Calgary even 2-2 with Tampa in the middle frame before the Flames went on to grab a 6-3 win. In his first full year with the club, Toffoli is producing like never before in his career; he’ll almost certainly record his first 60-point season this year and even 70 might be within reach for the guy with 40 points through 47 contests (including 12 in his past 11 outings).

5. Montreal Canadiens (20-24-3) With the news that Cole Caufield’s season is over due to surgery, the list of Habs names who have or will miss significant time this year is pretty staggering. It includes — but is not limited to — Caufield, Juraj Slafkovsky, Kaiden Guhle, Mike Matheson, Brendan Gallagher, Jake Evans, Joel Edmundson, David Savard, Jonathan Drouin and Mike Hoffman. No wonder it took the likes of Rem Pitlick and Rafael Harvey-Pinard scoring to earn the extra-time win over the Leafs.

6. Ottawa Senators (20-23-3) Is it time to wonder where this is going again? The Sens lost 4-1 to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday, then flopped at home the next night, losing 5-1 to the Jets. Ottawa has one regulation-time win in its past eight and is giving up 4.5 goals-per-game during that stretch. Now comes the news Josh Norris is shutting it down for shoulder surgery just two games into his return.

7. Vancouver Canucks (18-25-3) I think we’re all in universal agreement there’s basically never been a similar scene in hockey to Bruce Boudreau wiping away tears while being saluted by fans after Saturday’s loss. This guy has a .626 points percentage in over 15 seasons as an NHL head man.

The Week Ahead

• The Bruins and Canadiens will play their first game of the year on Tuesday in Montreal. When is the last time there was this much space between the old rivals in the standings? That same night, the momentum-building Florida Panthers — they beat Minnesota on Saturday for their seventh win in 10 tries — visit Pittsburgh in a game with wild-card ramifications in the East.

• The Leafs have a rare Sunday home game this coming weekend and the match, all things being equal, with be captain John Tavares’ 1,000th NHL contest.

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