Where do the Vancouver Canucks go from Here?


Dec 13, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller (10) collides with Vancouver Canucks forward Derek Dorsett (51) along the boards during the third period at Rogers Arena. The New York Rangers won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Pictured above: J.T. Miller lands what looks like a WWE style takedown on Derek Dorsett, creating an image that perfectly symbolizes the Canucks’ game against the Rangers.

If you’ve been following the Canucks, you probably noticed they’ve been bad lately. I attended the Canucks and Rangers game on Saturday night. It was even worse in person, trust me. There’s no shortage of opinions as to why. Some have pointed to the length of their road trip (hint: it was too long). Some have suggested that they are missing Dan Hamhuis dearly right now. There has been much coverage about what has gone wrong. But all of those things are in the past. I can’t change the past, but I can try to predict the future. How will the Canucks fare over their next 10 games? I’d like to answer that question with a little game I like to call “Scenarios.” You might recall I’ve done this once before. We’ll look at three scenarios: the best case, the worst case, the most likely. And for a bonus we’ll look at the least likely scenario, which will be ridiculous. You have been warned.

Best Case Scenario

The Canucks tear off a 10 game win streak! Christmas kittens for everyone! Realistically, the best case scenario is for the team to end the losing streak and string together a few wins. The next three games offer some great opportunities, with the Stars, Flames and Coyotes coming to town. The Stars have underperformed up to this point in the seasons, as have the Coyotes, and the Flames have suffered six straight losses after their hot start. But for winning to happen, a few things need to fall in to place. First, Willie Desjardins’ system tweaks need to work in order for the Canucks to cut down on odd man rushes. As CTW’s Owen Munro observed, the Canucks have struggled with speedy teams like the Rangers and Stars this year. Desjardins’ defensive tweaks should help calm the game down for the Canucks. Second, certain defensemen (ahem, Bieksa) need to strengthen their play. I suspect that Bieksa’s struggles are linked to the aggressive style the team has been playing. But they are also linked to his pairing with Luca “Hot n’ Ready” Sbisa (That was a pizza nickname, not a dirty one, I promise). Bieksa and Sbisa earned their minuses in this game (-3 for Bieksa and -4 for Sbisa). Desjardins plans to reunite Sbisa and Weber, a line has showed positive possession when together (55% Corsi, if I’m reading the charts right. Which, to be fair, is unlikely). Hopefully Bieksa and Stanton can play well together, or perhaps Alex Biega will get a shot in the lineup to mix things up. Obviously Bieksa will stay in the lineup, but he will need to settle his game.

Another issue has been the goaltending. To be fair to Miller, not even some kind of robotic supergoalie could have stopped the incessant odd-man rushes the Canucks gave up on Saturday. But  Miller’s overall numbers in this losing streak have been awful (.816 SV% in his last 4 games). This obviously needs to improve, and hopefully it will as the Canucks’ defense improves. I think Desjardins will consider giving Eddie Lack a couple of starts if Miller continues to falter. He certainly wouldn’t have anything to lose.

Best Case Scenario: 7-2-1. If everything goes right (and that’s expecting a lot), the Canucks have the potential to put together a nice little run. They sweep their next three home games, go 1-1-1 in their Pacific trip, then come home and finish 3-1 in their next four games at home. Again, that’s the best case scenario. Let’s take a look at the worst case scenario.

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Worst Case Scenario

Losing, like the mumps, is contagious. If the Canucks can’t put together a strong performance tonight, things could get ugly in a hurry. The worst case scenario here is really just all of the things in the best case scenario not happening. The defensive tweaks don’t work, Bieksa struggles, and Miller continues to give up early goals. One other issue to consider is goal scoring. Bonino’s goal on Saturday was his first in 15 games. Burrows has been struggling, Higgins was demoted to the fourth line on Saturday, and the Sedin line has looked overwhelmed at several points during this losing streak. If the Canucks can’t get their offense clicking again, they’ll have a nightmare road trip through California.

Worst Case Scenario: 3-6-1. If everything goes wrong, especially on defense, they will have a hard time stopping the skid. I still think they can beat the Flames and Coyotes at home, and pull out a win and an OT loss after the road trip. But rest assured, the Canucks will not be living out their California Dreams on the road.

Most Likely Scenario

A lot hangs on tonight’s game. It’s not a “must-win” by any means, but it would really mean a lot for the team’s confidence if they can get a win against a Stars team that has given them trouble recently (including September’s 6-3 shelling). I think, most likely, some of the issues will be corrected, but probably not all of them. Desjardins is a knowledgeable hockey mind. I think his system will stick with the players (although it may take some learning) and help cut down on the rushes. Sbisa and Weber will be a better pairing than Sbisa and Bieksa. But the Canucks, and especially Bieksa, still sorely miss Hamhuis. Ryan Miller’s aggressive style won’t change any time soon, and it backfired against the Stars last time. But after a long rest at home, I think the scoring can come back a little stronger as well.

Most Likely Scenario: 5-3-2. The Canucks lose in overtime to the Stars, then beat the Flames and Coyotes. They go 1-2 on their California trip, then come back and win 2 of 4 at home, with one loss coming in OT. I think that’s a reasonable result to expect in the next 10 games. It’s not ideal, but it’s reasonable. And if I’m way off you can all tweet @newvanfan to remind me of my errors.

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Least Likely Scenario

After continuing to struggle in the three games at home, a dejected Kevin Bieksa boards the plane for Anaheim. In a sour mood, he finds a seat by himself in the back of the plane. All of the sudden he feels something furry bump his arm. He looks beside him. Somehow a lovable little mutt has found its way on to the plane and seated itself on the aisle right beside him. Bieksa is surprised to see it, but says nothing, since the plane is already in the air. He finds the dog’s presence comforting. “You’re the only friend I have right now,” he sighs, “maybe you can help me fix my game.” He smiles to himself at this ridiculous thought.

The next day the Canucks are playing Anaheim. Bieksa sees a loose puck in the offensive zone, but he knows he’ll be making a dangerous play if he tries to go get it. He decides to make the aggressive play when suddenly he hears a faint barking sound coming from the bench. He decides to back off, and good thing he does, as he’s able to catch up to Ryan Getzlaf, who was lurking behind him looking for a breakaway pass. “Did that dog just coach me?” he asks himself. “Nah,” he thinks, there’s no way a dog could coach. Right?” But later in the game he’s hemmed in his own zone. Desperate to make a play, he decides to throw the puck over the glass, when suddenly he hears the barking again. He looks up just in time to see a wide open Daniel Sedin streaking down the wing. He sends the pass, gets off the ice, and pats the dog on the head. “Thanks boy,” he says, “because of you I’m having the game of my life!” Nobody seems to care that there’s a dog on the bench at an NHL hockey game.

The road trip goes well for Bieksa. He and the dog go everywhere together, even sharing an ice cream cone at the beach in LA. They do 1 on 1 skating drills in their extra time. His game is better than ever. Every night after the game, the dog is by his side as he does interviews in the locker room. Then the road trip is over. The plane lands in Vancouver. As Bieksa and the dog exit the plane together, the dog simply wanders off, walking toward the horizon. Bieksa, tearing up, yells after it. “Wait! Where are you going?” Captain Henrik Sedin pats Bieksa on the shoulder. “Maybe tomorrow, he’ll want to settle down.” Bieksa sniffles, “I should have adopted that dog when I had the chance.”