Are the Vancouver Canucks a playoff team? It looks like we won’t find out until April 2017.
The question whether or not the Vancouver Canucks can be a playoff team in the 2016-17 season has been beaten to death around the blogosphere. But that doesn’t mean the debate is settled.
Vancouver is back starting the season with a healthy roster and they made two big-name additions. But how can that be enough after finishing 28th in the league standings?
A Long Way Up
Jason Botchford — The Province: Can Canucks become playoff team? They have a lot of ground to make up
"Will Anton Rodin’s skills translate in the NHL? Is Erik Gudbranson an improvement on Dan Hamhuis? Is Bo Horvat really best-suited in a defensive role after leading the team in scoring in last season’s second half? Is there enough playing time on defence for three players most slotted for a third pairing, Luca Sbisa, Nikita Tryamkin and Philip Larsen? And where exactly is Alex Burrows going to fit in?But there is one question that trumps all. At least for the Canucks’ front office, and the sub-section of fans who can’t stomach a rebuilding team. Is this Canucks roster good enough to make the playoffs?"
On November 10, 2015, the Vancouver Canucks led the Pacific Division after 16 games played. Their 19 points would only have been good for fifth in the Central Division, but that shouldn’t be the benchmark. The Central Division was and maybe still is the toughest division in the league. But for the Pacific, the only division the Canucks really need to care about, it seemed to be enough.
November 10, 2015 is also the day Brandon Sutter went down for the first time — he would miss 33 games. On Novemeber 18, defenseman Ben Hutton went down to miss seven games. Chris Higgins, Jake Virtanen, Luca Sbisa and Dan Hamhuis followed shortly after, with Hamhuis missing 21 games with a broken, nay, shattered jaw.
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On December 9, when Hamhuis suffered his injury in a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers, the Canucks still sat in second in the Pacific Division, trailing only the Los Angeles Kings.
As we all remember, the injuries just wouldn’t stop. The Canucks were never able to ice even a nearly healthy roster. On January 1, Vancouver was tied for third with the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, with three and two games in hand, respectively.
But, it all went downhill from there, and the year was capped off by season-ending injuries sustained by Jared McCann, Linden Vey, Sven Baertschi, Radim Vrbata, Luca Sbisa, Alex Edler and Brandon Sutter. That’s a darn long list.
Looking at it that way, I can’t help but wonder what would have been, had the Canucks suffered only half of those injuries or less.
Unfortunately, a new problem has arisen this time around. Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles are likely still the top-three teams in the division. Calgary and Edmonton arguably got better, like the Canucks did, so there will be tough competition.
However, the Central Division is still considered the better one, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see both wild card playoff spots go there again. The Ducks, Sharks and Kings are the favorites to win the division, while the Canucks, Oilers and Flames will fight for one playoff spot with teams like the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s possible. But it sure as hell won’t be easy.