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Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the first period at Rogers Arena.
Two wins over a very tough opponent is nothing to sniff at.
There’s little doubt about that.
But it all feels a little bittersweet. The Saturday win over the Toronto Maple Leafs puts the Vancouver Canucks up to a nine per cent chance of making the playoffs, according to HockeyViz.com .
There’s still hope there, but it’s going to take a whole bunch more wins like the last two.
At least 19, you’d expect.
If the power play had run a little better earlier in the season, if they’d had another bounce or three one way or another, it would all feel very different.
Instead, this feels a little too much like a reminder of what might have been.
But it also all shouldn’t obscure the real challenges ahead in setting this team towards contention, properly.
Vasili Podkolzin will be a solid winger in the top six. That means one of Nils Höglander, Jake Virtanen or Tanner Pearson (or the replacements for the latter two), getting pushed down to the third line. And you need them to be the kind of players you could actually see spotting up to the second line in a pinch.
That’s the ongoing reminder here, that the way to build a true contender is to be able to add players to the top of your lineup who push players down the rotation.
The Canucks’ lineup just doesn’t have that. They’ve done well without Elias Pettersson , but both wins in the end have been powered by their top two lines.
Again, that’s good, you need your best players to be your best players, but you need to have something from your bottom six, too, sometimes and there just hasn’t been enough of that in the Benning era.
Tyler Toffoli, his 15 goals and the Montreal Canadiens are in town on Monday.
Even another good run against the Habs will only keep things as they are; Montreal still holds five games in hand on the Canucks. They hold down a top-four position.
And they just annihilated Winnipeg 7-1.
Sure, the Canucks could be starting a run here. And for everyone’s sake, let’s hope they prove me wrong.
But things just aren’t lined up optimally. Wishing for things just to work out isn’t a way to run a multi-million dollar team.
And this team’s value and results have been in decline over the past five years. Those are related. Planning. Have a plan. Don’t do things on wing and a prayer.
A familiar formula
If you go with HockeyViz’s xG setup, you can see that in general the Leafs got better shots off Saturday than the Canucks.
Natural Stat Trick’s calculations show a similar story.
The Canucks played fine. But they won because of Thatcher Demko’s play at even strength and their power play running white hot and the fact they stayed out of the penalty box.
The coach question
It’s not just Travis Green that is on an expiring contract. So is Ian Clark.
And my ears perked up when Kevin Woodley asked Jim Benning about Travis Green’s contract on Friday.
Woodley: “With a lack of an extension to this point, is this purely financial based on COVID or is there a judgment to be made on Travis at the end of the season that you’re waiting for? And if it’s purely financial, in terms of not doing it now, do you worry about him or other members of his staff just leaving on their own accord, like a free agent?”
Benning’s response didn’t even get into the question.
Benning: “Well, my feeling on Travis is we really like him, he’s done a good job with this group. He’s our coach. I’m not going to comment on player negotiations, I’m not going to comment on coaching negotiations, but it’s something that we would like to get done moving forward.”
Benning has said more than once he wants to retain Green. And when he speaks in firm terms like that, it usually doesn’t go another way.
So has he been blocked from above? And it stands to reason that Green wouldn’t want to retain his staff. And we know how important Ian Clark is to this team. Sure, there are other goalie coaches with good reputation who would likely be interested in working with Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro, but the guy here now did wonders with Jacob Markstrom and clearly is doing wonders with Thatcher Demko. Why break up a good thing?
Pay these guys.
The moving goal posts
First it was what was there when they started. (They moved all the supposedly problematic contracts, but never mind that.)
Then there were an endless series of excuses about injuries, coupled with claims of depth followed by excuses about injuries… (And without getting into not getting another for Radim Vrbata or Dan Hamhuis when it was clearly all over but the crying in the playoff chase.)
Then it was a bunch of bets on players who didn’t work out. (Hello Luca Sbisa, Erik Gudbranson, Sam Gagner, Ben Hutton and Sven Baertschi. And that’s without getting into guys who are here and add little to nothing to the lineup for their cost, like Jay Beagle, Brandon Sutter and Antoine Roussel.)
Then there was stuff about how long it takes prospects to develop. (Except Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Nils Höglander were all playing in the NHL within two seasons of being drafted. Sounds more like about giving your prospects a shot.)
And, of course, at first it was “we can fix this fast” but now it’s “well it’s going to be a while yet.”
There are 31 GM jobs in this league. A plan should be a series of hopeful guesses. What happens if you get them almost all wrong?
The biggest story in the second-biggest English language market this week drew nary a mention on the national broadcast — but a presser from Buffalo, a team also going nowhere, does? — was very weird.
Even if there’s no new insight, it would have been interesting to hear the takeaways from what Benning told us as understood well on the outside.
Maybe we missed something?
I mean, it wasn’t until Daniel Wagner went back and read over the transcript that he realized that Benning brought up the idea of trading for a player on his own, unprompted.
(The interesting thing about that, by the way, was that some weeks back Elliotte Friedman had said on HNIC that the Canucks shouldn’t do anything in a panic, which some took to mean about firing the GM, but he was really talking about making a trade. So he must have heard something then that Benning’s comment Friday can be taken as a nod of his own towards.)
Anyway, at least everyone in Vancouver knows well what went down on Friday.
Speaking of Guddy
Here’s a helluva clip from Thursday’s Leafs broadcast.
First it’s Ray Ferraro, incredulous at a Jordie Benn icing.
Then there’s Gord Miller referencing a game he saw recently and an ex-Canucks defenceman.
Matt Duchene, who hit IR today for three to five weeks — but just a lower body injury? who reports the time but not the injury? — has not worked out for the Nashville Predators.
But go back and look at his scoring record, even in Colorado it wasn’t clear he was more than a high-end second-line centre.
So why is so much money being allocated to him?
And how is he any different, really from Ryan Johansen?
Johansen is making the same salary and has never produced at a rate higher than Duchene.
So why has Poile committed so much to two second line centres?
The Predators has drafted well over the years and the team that made the final in 2017 was pretty solid. But they also just squeezed into the playoffs and then rode an incredible run from Pekka Rinne to the final.
He’s been a good-enough GM at times, but at some point good-enough shouldn’t be good enough.
A number of players have been sporting sweatshirts like the one Demko wore after Saturday’s game.
The women’s players’ association has been pushing a public campaign for the NHL to get involved with professional women’s hockey.
A video released last week featured a number of NHLers, but no Canucks, speaking out in support of there being a well-funded professional women’s league.
The Canadian women’s league folded in 2019 and the U.S.-based National Women’s League did manage to play some games earlier this year, though a COVID-19 outbreak stopped play before they could play their final games.
Canada vs. U.S. women’s games are well supported. The women’s game is very good. And if deep minor league owners can make those kinds of teams work in front of smaller crowds, so surely can a serious women’s league work.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021