The lows that led to the Canucks’ best start in franchise history

The Canucks are finding success after seasons of coaching turnovers and abysmal starts

photo of Quinn Hughes and JT Miller celebrating after Hughes’ OT game winner.
PHOTO: Courtesy of the Vancouver Canucks' Instagram

By: Kaja Antic, Sports Writer

After years of turmoil, it’s time to back Canada’s leading team. It’s time to believe in the Vancouver Canucks again.

Since the team was eliminated from the second round of playoffs in game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights during their surprising stint in the modified 2020 NHL postseason, it seemed like the Canucks were on an ongoing downward spiral. 

The following year, during the 2020–21 COVID-shortened season, instead of taking another step forward, the Canucks finished last in the first-ever all Canadian North division — due largely to tighter border regulations during the pandemic. 

In 56 games, the Canucks scraped together a mere 50 points, with a losing record of 23–29–4. After playing 37 games, the team’s season was temporarily halted on March 30, 2021, after former Canucks forward Adam Gaudette was pulled from practice after testing positive for COVID-19.

COVID-19 infections proceeded to spread quickly throughout the organization, with 21 players and four Canucks staff members contracting the virus since Gaudette’s case was made public. The puck was finally dropped for another Canucks game on April 18, 2021, after not playing a game since March 24. The team finished the season after conflicts with the NHL, being forced to play 19 games in 31 days — 12 of them resulting in losses, and being eliminated officially from the post-season.

These dropped points were not the worst of the outbreak’s consequences, however, as players continued to struggle with the aftermath of the virus. Most notable was former Canuck Brandon Sutter, who retired in October 2023, after not playing a regular season game since 2021 due to the effects of LongCOVID

The bad luck followed the Canucks into the 2021–22 season, holding an 8–15–2 record through the first 25 games. The drama heightened on December 4, 2021, after a fan tossed their jersey onto the ice, and chants called for the firing of then-general manager, Jim Benning, during a 4–1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The next day, Benning was fired along with then-head coach Travis Green, who led the Canucks in their playoff run two seasons prior. 

The Canucks then hired Bruce Boudreau as head coach, who finished the season 32–15–10, and nearly led the team to the playoffs, before they were eliminated in the second to last game of the year. Despite Boudreau’s success in his first few months, the 2022–23 season would not be as forgiving, as the Canucks started the year winless through their first seven games.

The bad luck mounted for the Canucks, with all-star goalie Thatcher Demko missing months due to injury, rumours of medical malpractice with forward Tanner Pearson, frustration boiling out onto the ice, and Boudreau himself being fired after 13 months behind the Vancouver bench.

Just over a week after Rick Tocchet was brought in to replace Boudreau, Canucks captain Bo Horvat was traded to the New York Islanders after months of rumours, as his contract with Vancouver was set to expire that offseason.

Under Tocchet, the Canucks improved slightly, earning a record of 20–12–4 with the new bench boss, but ultimately missing the playoffs for the third season in a row. Despite the adversity, Demko had a strong return late in the season, Quinn Hughes reached 200 assists faster than any other defenceman in league history, centreman Elias Pettersson reached 102 points, and breakout Russian winger Andrei Kuzmenko earned an impressive 27.3 shooting percentage.

These impressive achievements have certainly carried into the 2023–24 season. Hughes was named the 15th team captain in franchise history, and the Canucks have achieved a 12–4–1 record over 17 games thus far, with no real sign of slowing down. The team has yet to lose in regulation at Rogers Arena, picking up a point in an overtime loss on October 28 against the New York Rangers.

The team has the highest positive goal differential — goals for minus goals against — in the league, with the number at the time of writing being +31 on the season. This can be credited to the many dominant offensive performances the team has had early on, from winning their first game of the season 8–1 against the Edmonton Oilers to an eye-popping 10–1 win against the San Jose Sharks. 

It has certainly been a team effort, with many players contributing to the winning performances. Brock Boeser seems to finally be on pace to hit the 30-goal mark this season, with 13 already on the season. In just 17 games, Boeser has earned 21 points, with Hughes and forwards JT Miller and Elias Pettersson tied for the team lead with 27 points each.

Goaltending has also been a high point for Vancouver. In 11 starts, Demko is 8–3–0, with two shutouts, a .932 save percentage, and a 2.04 goals against average. Backup goaltender Casey DeSmith has made six starts so far, with a .917 save percentage, 2.89 goals against average, and a solid 4–1–1 record.

The Canucks are currently second in the Pacific division, only behind the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Vegas Golden Knights. With 25 points so far, the Canucks are on pace for 121 points this season — more than enough for a bid to the postseason. 

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