It is very possible that the Canucks will not make the playoffs this year. And that is okay.
Even if they do make it into the first round, it will be a challenge to go far this year, with a goalie still new to the NHL and a squad of players that has been bombarded with injuries and scoring droughts this season. Rest and an opportunity to rebuild is what this team needs, and if a break from competing for hockey’s holy grail is what is in store for the Canucks, it will definitely not hurt them.
There have been many injuries that the Canucks have had to deal with this season. 16 players – Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Jordan Schroeder, Kevin Bieksa, Mike Santorelli, Chris Higgins, Alex Edler, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis, Brad Richardson, Chris Tanev, Ryan Stanton, Yannick Weber and Andrew Alberts – have been sidelined at some point. In fact, the Canucks have only one player, Jason Garrison, who has played in every single game this season so far.
Kesler and Daniel, both currently injured, might be making a return to the line-up on Sunday night against Buffalo. But Alex Burrows might be injured again (adding to the broken foot and jaw that he has already suffered this season), as he got slashed on the hands by Nashville’s Shea Weber on Wednesday and did not practice with the Canucks on Saturday morning.
This upcoming off-season will be valuable for many of the players to fully recover from their injuries, and hopefully a brand new start in the 2014-15 season will solve the Canucks’ scoring problem. For much of early 2014 the Canucks have struggled to score. Luckily, over the past few games that has not seemed to be as big of a problem, as Burrows finally scored his first goal of the season on March 12th against Winnipeg. He now has five goals in the last five games – but if his hand injury is serious, that might be all he gets this season.
Alongside Burrows’ sudden scoring splurge is the surprising success that AHL call-up Nicklas Jensen has had. Playing alongside Burrows and Henrik Sedin in the absence of Daniel, Jensen has three goals and two assists in his seven games with the Canucks this season, riding a current four game point streak. Drafted by the Canucks in the first round of the 2011 Draft, Jensen’s transition into playing with the Canucks has seemed effortless. He only had two NHL games on his resume prior to this season from last April with the Canucks (he did not register a point in either).
The rebuilding stage is starting to be put into action now with the younger faces of 21-year old Jensen and newly signed 21-year old winger Michael Zalewski on the scene. If Jensen keeps playing the way he is playing, he may have earned himself a full-time spot on the roster next season. Zalewski, who is undrafted and played for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, practised with the Canucks Saturday morning, but whether or not he will play in any games this season has yet to be seen. The Canucks have had success picking players from the NCAA free agent pool before, when they signed Chris Tanev from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2010.
And then of course, there is the Roberto Luongo aftermath. It seems unfair for Eddie Lack to have had the heavy-weighted role of Vancouver’s starting goaltender thrown at him so suddenly in his first year in the NHL. Lack has been playing fairly well, earning his fourth NHL shutout on Wednesday against the Nashville Predators, but it will be a surprise if backup Jacob Markstrom gets any playing time with the Canucks this season, and GM Mike Gillis will hopefully be on the lookout for goalies in the post-season.
So, Vancouver fans, if the Canucks do not make the playoffs this year, there is no need to panic. Looking at the injuries that so many of their pivotal players have had to and still are dealing with, the scoring slumps, and the serious need to rebuild, a long off-season will not be bad, and will likely be more beneficial for the team then making it to, but not through the first or second round.