The NHL season has reached its second month and with ten games into the 2022-23 campaign, the Vancouver Canucks look like a team ready to throw in the proverbial towel. You can place the blame on a myriad of things such as bad coaching, bad player performance, bad luck, bad injuries to key players but the key element here is that the Canucks are simply a bad team right now. Excuses and rationalizations will eventually wear themselves out and in the end, the entire Vancouver franchise is an organization in search of itself.
At the beginning of the season, many pundits already pegged a number of teams that would fall into the dubious “bottom feeder” category which means these franchises started this year working for a paycheck and little else. Teams such as the Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken,Anaheim Ducks,Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes are expected to be the worst teams in the NHL this season. However, somewhere along the way, these same teams have become some of the most vastly improved teams in the league with the Flyers, Blackhawks and Kraken leading the way in a surpsiing turnaround from the 2021-22 season.
Notice I didn’t mention the Vancouver Canucks in the last paragraph and for good reason. Yes, the Canucks started last season on a horrible note and with the hiring of Bruce Boudreau as head coach, they made an honest effort to pull themselves out the cellar in the Pacific Division and remained relevant until the spring, missing the playoffs by five total points. Fast forward to the 2022-23 season and the same Canucks are clearly the absolute worst team in the National Hockey League. Alright, the Canucks have six total points in the standings along with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the St. Louis Blues. However, as bad as both of those teams are currently, they at least have three wins apiece while the Canucks truly are hiding in the basement right now with a 2-6-2 record..
It’s time to start looking at adding more ice time for Spencer Martin.
When you watch the Canucks play, you cannot miss the glaring lack of cohesion, hustle and simple purpose of being out on the ice for most of this team. Defensively, the Canucks certainly have missed the blueline leadership of Quinn Hughes who’s missed ice time due to an undisclosed injury carried over from the preseason. Well, Hughes played against his brother Jack and the New Jersey Devils and still lost 5-2 so that excuse has been largely discredited.
Maybe the Canucks need to critidally re-evaluate the defensive structure of their special teams. So far this season, Vancouver has only converted power play goals 27.8 percent of the time which isn’t the worst in the league but does indicate that they cannot adequately convert their player advantages to goals being scored. Statistically speaking, the Canucks hit rock bottom with their penatly kill which sits at 60 percent or 32nd in the league. For casual readers and hardcore hockey fans alike, this simple number means that 40% of the time the Canucks’ penalty kill units are giving up goals. In other words, this team’s penalty kill defense leaks goals like a broken sieve.
One of the popular excuses floating around those who know the Canucks like to claim that an over-reliance on good goaltending is taking its toll on the organization. There’s no question that starting goalie Thatcher Demko is the main man protecting the pipes and the Canucks have invested a five-year, $25 million dollar contract on him to be a key player in this franchise. However, that over-reliance and maybe plain overconfidence in Demko may be hurting the Canucks right now. Demko’s stat line reads like a horror movie script with a 1-6-1 record, 32 goals given up so far, a scary 4.06 goals-against average and a paltry .876 save percentage. According to nhl.com, Thatcher Demko ranks 63rd out of 67 goalies who have logged in at least one game. That $25 million dollar contract is a lot of money right now to pay for one victory.
I completely understand that the Canucks’ losing streak cannot and should not be placed solely on the shoulders of Thatcher Demko. Demko is the current goalie and will remain as the goalie for this organization for a number of years to come. However, many athletes at some point in their career seem to hit a bump in the road. Baseball pitchers seem to lose their key pitch and watch their earned-run averages balloon; football quarterbacks start throwing a string of untimely interceptions; basketball players go into a shooting slump and the list goes on. With rest and a change in the causes of poor performance, most top athletes are able to bounce back and become effective team contributors.
Demko has spent 473 minutes on the ice so far this season and maybe it’s time to create more of a rotation with his backup goaltender Spencer Martin. In his two games, Martin has a 1-0-1 record and has not lost in regulation time this season. Martin also has done a fantastic job with 63 saves, a solid 2.43 goals-against average am equally sound .926 save percentage, not to mention he currently ranks 18th among goaltenders this season so far. I’m not suggesting that Martin take over the starting role from Demko at this point. The Canucks need to look at how well Spencer Martin has played so far and maybe develop a better rotation to fully utilize Martin to protect the pipes and maybe help the Canucks turn the season around. If the Canucks do nothing on the defensive back end, November will roll into December and this may very well be another long season in Vancouver for players and fans alike.