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THE MOJ: Plenty of questions as the Canucks reset after another disappointing season

Will the Tocchet new coach bump affect how team approaches the offseason?
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Vancouver Canucks right wing Conor Garland shields the puck from Arizona Coyotes defenseman J.J. Moser (90) in overtime during an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. The Canucks won 5-4. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

As the Vancouver Canucks end another disappointing season, their fans wonder what the future holds.

A coaching change in late January resulted in the so-called ‘coaching bump’ as Rick Tocchet produced a 20-12-4 record after taking over the reins from a beleaguered Bruce Boudreau, who guided the team to an 18-25-3 mark.

The glass half-full side will look at the improvement under Tocchet and believe that better things are in store for the hockey club.

The team played with more structure defensively and improved its much-maligned man-short unit which was horrendous under Boudreau.

The glass half-empty side will view it though a different lens.

They will see it as nothing more than a mirage that hurt the team when it came to its chances of landing Connor Bedard in the NHL Entry Draft this summer.

They will look at the level of opposition and realize that the Canucks had one of the weaker schedules remaining when Tocchet took over and that the team produced when it didn’t matter.

So where does the truth lie?

During Tocchet’s tenure, the schedule was obviously a factor as the Canucks only won six times in 16 games against teams that made the playoffs while feasting on clubs that didn’t qualify for the post-season – recording 14 wins in 20 games against those squads.

As for improved structure, under Boudreau the Canucks were outshot on average 32-30. They averaged 3.35 goals per game while giving up 3.95.

Under Tocchet, the Canucks were outshot on average 29-28. The Canucks averaged 3.38 goals per game while the goals against average dipped to 3.19.

The penalty killing was horrendous under Boudreau with the unit only killing off 67.2% of penalties which was on pace for one of the worst records of all time.

That part of the game improved under Tocchet as the penalty kill unit finished at a 78.6% clip which would have put them in the middle of the pack if sustained over the course of a season.

There is one major variable when examining the statistics regarding the penalty kill and the goals against average and that was the return of goaltender Thatcher Demko in late February.

Demko was injured in a game on Dec. 1 against Florida and didn’t return until Feb. 27 against Dallas.

Prior to the injury, Demko was inconsistent as he posted a save percentage of .883.

Under Tocchet, he rebounded with a .915 save percentage.

Unfortunately for Boudreau, he had to live through a sub-par Demko and then two months of Spencer Martin and Collin Delia – both of whom who finished well below the .900 threshold in save percentage.

After looking at these numbers one can understand why some Canuck fans are still pessimistic about the team’s future.

Yes, there is a solid foundation with core players such as Demko, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller and Andrei Kuzmenko but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Most Canuck fans are hoping that Canucks President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford and General Manager Patrik Allvin aren’t too enamored with the late season success because of the reasons we have outlined.

Remember, it was Rutherford who proclaimed in mid-January that ‘major surgery’ was required on the roster if the team was to achieve its goals.

One wonders if he still believes that after the team’s play under Tocchet.

Last summer, the Canucks failed to address two major issues that were tied to one another – that was creating cap space and addressing their sub-par blueline corps.

The team did acquire a top-four defenseman in Filip Hronek from Detroit and signed two young promising defencemen in NCAA free agents Akito Hirose and Cole McWard but the cap issue remains.

With no one of significance coming off the books, some wizardry will be required to become cap compliant.

According to CapFriendly.com, Vancouver has 20 players under contract for the 2023-24 season with a projected cap hit of $85,941,250 – which actually puts them over the projected cap of $83.5 million with still more players needed to fill out a roster – such as RFA defenceman Ethan Bear, who provided the team with some quality depth on the blue line.

There are potential buyout candidates in defencemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers, and forward Brock Boeser and his $6.65 million dollar deal will probably be dealt, but by no means are the Canucks in the clear even if those moves are made.

Did we also mention that Pettersson is due for a massive bump with his upcoming extension?

Rutherford and his group appear to be on the right path but there is a lot of work to be done before this team leaves what many fans and media types call the ‘mushy middle’ of the NHL standings.

The previous Canucks management team led by general manager Jim Benning was swayed by playoff appearances in 2014-15 and 2019-20, only to watch the hockey club fail to make the post-season the next four and three years respectively.

Hopefully this management group can recognize another red herring.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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