I have to apologize in advance for using a popular soap opera name as part of the title for this article, but if you have even remotely followed the Vancouver Canucks at all this season, you just know this season has already been a bit of a three-ring circus. Player underperformance, contract negotiations, conflicts between the front office and the coaching staff and sub-par hockey have all added to the flavor of this unfolding soap opera in Vancouver.
The Canucks started this season with a sense of hope and probably more of urgency as this franchise has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in six of the last seven years – a sad state of affairs for one of the NHL’s strongest fan bases. Hope has turned to despair and self-destruction in the first month of the season with the Canucks giving up multi-goal leads in no less than five games this season (and they set an NHL record for losing four straight with multi-goal leads at the beginning of 2022-23.)
Cries of anguish could be heard in the Canucks’s circle as bemoans for the lack of coherent defense and the overwork of goalie Thatcher Demko became soundbites for media pundits and the Canucks’ front office alike. Questions still remain about who should be the netminder for the conceivable future as Thatcher Demko, the purported franchise-tagged goalie holds a record of 1-6-2 with a goals-against average of 3.90 and a save percentage of .879. On paper, Demko is clearly underperforming and his backup Spencer Martin is clearly the stronger netminder at this point in the season.
Martin has not lost in regulation time and has a 3-0-1 record including a big win recently agains the Ottawa Senators on the road. Martin’s statistics are stronger right now as well with a 3.45 goals-against average and a save percentage at an even .900. In reality, neither goaltender is currently in the running for the Vezina Trophy, but right now Spencer Martin is clearly the one who should be guarding the pipes more frequently.
Can the Canucks move forward without destroying themselves?
The answer to that question is a resounding yes they can. In the last six games, the Canucks stand at 4-1-1 and have an overall 4-6-3 record with 11 points in the Pacific Division standings. While not the worst team anymore, the Canucks have a long haul ahead to improve their overall performance both on the ice and in the front office. In addressing their defensive weaknesses on the right side, the Canucks recently acquired defenseman Ethan Bear in a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes and Bear has been making strides to work himself in as a second or third-line right defenseman.
One of the major controversies that’s starting to show it’s ugly head is the potential conflict between the Canucks’ front office and head coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau was brought in last year and inherited a disaster in the making from Travis Green. Boudreau was able to turn around the season for the most part but again the Canucks missed the postseason. With this season already looking eerily similar to last fall, rumblings from team president Jim Rutherford have become more vocal in questioning Boudreau’s game plans. Apparently Boudreau took offense to Rutherford’s thinking out loud about the Canucks’ lack of “defensive structure” and gave a strongly-worded response that only a veteran NHL coach could think of: “It’s my 47th year and I’ve seen a lot of things. This is just another thing to add to the book I’m never going to write.”
Will Bo Horvat get a new contract or is he trade bait?
Contract talks between the Canucks and Bo Horvat have not brought any new revelations and the Vancouver captain still remains an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of this season. While team president JIm Rutherford expresses a desire to continue with negotiations and at least on the surface is sincere in those contract talks, the reality is that Bo Horvat is having a great season personally so far and could be used to open up trade talks between the Canucks and other teams.
Horvat has 12 goals and four assists in the first 13 games of the season and is second on the team only to Elias Pettersson in total points so far. Combined with his experience and captaincy in Vancouver and his UFA status at the end of the year, Horvat remains an intriguing trade prospect. The NHL trade deadline is March 3rd and if Horvat’s contract talks continue to stall, the more likely he will be at least a topic of trade discussions within the various NHL front offices.