For weeks and months, the assumption by many was that the Vancouver Canucks would be sellers at Monday’s trade deadline.
The new management team has stated a desire to add draft picks, prospects, and cap space, after all.
But heading into Saturday’s game against the Calgary Flames, you could make a case for that plan to be altered. After a miraculous run under Bruce Boudreau, they were truly in the playoff race.
But after a lacklustre performance on home ice, resulting in a 5-2 loss, it feels like the night the playoff dream died.
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) March 20, 2022
The Canucks have now lost four of their last five games, and are five points back of the final playoff spot in the West with just 19 games left.
After the game, Vancouver’s top two leaders didn’t try sugarcoating it. The effort was unacceptable.
“There’s no excuses for us tonight,” said captain Bo Horvat. “Definitely wasn’t good enough. They obviously outplayed us in a lot of areas tonight, and obviously that was a result right there.”
The game was effectively over after the first period when the Canucks were outshot 16-4 and outscored 3-0. Slow starts have been a troubling theme for this team, and for Horvat, it’s about the players looking in the mirror to figure out why.
“It comes with within the room, and we got to find a way here, because it’s slipping away from us.”
It sure is. The Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers each won their respective games on Saturday, pushing the playoff bar further away. To reach 95 points, which is around the point total usually required to make the playoffs, the Canucks would have to go 14-5-0 down the stretch.
“It starts with our leadership group,” Horvat said, referring to himself and J.T. Miller beside him. “We have to find ways to be better at the beginning so we’re not down, chasing the game all the time.”
Miller, for his part, called into question the team’s effort.
“[The Flames are] a hell of a team, but we made them look pretty good,” said the Canucks’ leading scorer. “It’s just inexcusable, and I’m trying to challenge myself to be better, lead better.”
The Canucks will have an opportunity to bounce back Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres, but they made a statement on Saturday night, and not the good kind of statement.
This team probably isn’t good enough to make the playoffs, and they’ve got a long way to go before becoming a contender. They don’t have any promising prospects knocking on the door. They haven’t drafted in the first round in each of the last two years and are missing a second-rounder in the upcoming draft as well.
Those are signs that point towards the Canucks selling at Monday’s deadline. Perhaps that includes someone like Brock Boeser or Conor Garland, who are the biggest names in recent rumours.
Miller admitted that there’s been some deadline angst within the dressing room, including with himself when his name was the topic of rumours. Speculation has been abound since Jim Rutherford was hired way back in December.
“There’s been non-stop talk all year long. They’re pretty much a hundred percent speculation and rumours… I was having a little trouble staying concentrated. But it’s our job to show up an work hard. That’s the only thing we can control. We’re all here part of the Canucks team. We’re pushing for the playoffs. Effort should never be an issue this time of year.”
There’ll likely be relief for players after noon on Monday, but it would be a surprise at this point if the new Canucks management team doesn’t pull the trigger on some trades with an eye to the future.
Tyler Motte’s value has never been higher, and he’s a pending unrestricted free agent. It would be a curious move to hold onto him if he remains unsigned beyond this season.
Luke Schenn’s value is likely never going to be higher also. He’s under contract for another year, but he’s someone that a contender would surely love to add for depth on defence.
If anyone will have Jaroslav Halak, and he’s willing to waive his no-movement clause, expect the Slovak goaltender to be on the move too.