The playoffs are no longer a virtual lock for the Vancouver Canucks. If the collapse continues, expect some drastic changes in the offseason.
In a span of just three games, the Vancouver Canucks went from a near automatic postseason berth to a wild card club that’s just barely holding on for dear life.
Vancouver played arguably its worst game of the season against the Ottawa Senators last Thursday, dropping an ugly 5-2 decision against a team that’s simply counting down the days until the draft lottery.
The Canucks looked just as flat in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the mother of all collapses took place on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. You know, where Vancouver coughed up a 3-1 lead in the third period by surrendering four unanswered goals en route to a 5-2 defeat.
With that, the Canucks were handed a third straight loss. And entering play on Tuesday, they hold the top wild card spot with 74 points. The Nashville Predators are only two points behind them. The Winnipeg Jets (72 points), Arizona Coyotes (72 points) and Minnesota Wild (71 points) aren’t far behind, though Vancouver has two games in hand on the former two.
There is no breathing room here on the west coast. The Canucks have blown plenty of opportunities to distance themselves from the Jets, Coyotes and Wild. And now they have to try and rebound without top goalie Jacob Markstrom and sniper Brock Boeser for the long haul.
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And if the Canucks can’t turn it around, and if they miss the postseason for a fifth straight year, you can expect general manager Jim Benning to make some drastic changes.
Perhaps it would start behind the bench. Would head coach Travis Green really get a fourth year? Coaches don’t usually hang around if their team misses the postseason in three consecutive years.
And with prime candidates like Gerard Gallant, Mike Babcock, Peter Laviolette and Bruce Boudreau available, I wouldn’t be surprised if Benning decided to make a change.
Benning will also have to simply overhaul a blue line that isn’t getting it done. If Vancouver didn’t boast Markstrom and 211 goals for (tied for 10th most in the NHL), they wouldn’t be anywhere close to the postseason.
Right now, it makes sense to keep Chris Tanev, and Benning will certainly make a push to keep Troy Stecher. But if Vancouver misses out on the postseason, Benning may feel inclined to let both of them go as part of a blue line makeover. You can’t expect different results with the same group, after all.
And at the same time, Benning may decide to pay whatever it takes to secure Markstrom (a pending UFA) long-term. That could very well lead to the end of the Thatcher Demko era in Vancouver, unless the latter turns it around and shows he’s capable of holding down the fort while Markstrom is out.
Tyler Toffoli has been the perfect rental for the Canucks, with four goals and two assists in six games. If they make the postseason, Benning may feel the need to give him a new contract. But if the Canucks miss out, he may decide it’s not worth investing so much to retain a rental, especially one that didn’t quite get you into the postseason.
Or, the Canucks could simply bust out of this slump, end the playoff drought and once again remind the NHL that their future is only beginning. By doing that, Benning will surely look to bring back the same roster for next year, without any dramatic overhauls. Or else.
The Canucks are not only fighting for a playoff spot in 2020. Players and coaches will be fighting for their jobs, too, as Vancouver looks to avoid a horrendous collapse that would derail such a promising season.