Canucks Mailbag: Surprises, the Big Fella, and a whole lot of Loui

It’s time for our weekly Canucks mailbag in which we answer your questions

Happy weekend, friends! It’s time for another Canuck Way mailbag, the last one before the Vancouver Canucks head to Edmonton to begin their play-in series against the Minnesota Wild. Our wonderful site expert Brayden is off this week, so I’ll be taking over this mailbag which I hope you’ll enjoy. We asked for your Canucks-related questions on Twitter and you delivered, so we thank you all! Now, I’m going to go through and answer each of your questions one by one with my honest opinion of how things will go. Let’s dive right in!

We begin with a question from site expert Brayden himself! If the Wild want to defeat the Canucks, their best option is to focus on shutting down Vancouver’s fiery offence. This could be best done by either a solid defence corps preventing puck movement or individual players roughing up the Canucks’ top young stars. Wild defencemen such as Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will certainly pose a threat to the Canucks offence, but they are an expected evil that the team will have been training to face over the past couple weeks.

In my opinion, the Canucks should be more concerned with Minnesota’s defence-focused bottom six, namely Marcus Foligno and Joel Eriksson Ek. These two will serve as agitators, targeting Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes with particular ferocity. The Canucks need to anticipate this sort of attack, as Petey and Hughes are critical parts of the offence, and losing their production would be a serious loss.

Another very good question! Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what Micheal Ferland can do in the postseason as a proven playoff performer. We all remember the Canucks facing Calgary in 2015 and how much Ferland terrorized the Sedins. That’s a weapon that we now have for ourselves and I look forward to seeing it in action. However, Ferland comes with a big asterisk, as it’s impossible to know whether he will be healthy enough to play until he sees a game or two of full speed hockey.

I think Antoine Roussel is a bit of a safer sleeper pick than Ferland. He didn’t have the best year in his second season as a Canuck, but it’s very possible that this was a result of the knee injury that ended his 2018-19 season prematurely. Roussel is a known agitator, a precious commodity in any NHL playoff series, and he has had an extra spring in his step so far in training camp. Playing with Adam Gaudette and another scoring forward, Roussel could do some real unsung damage.

As complicated as figuring out the Canucks’ defence will be next season, I think it is fairly simple for these playoffs. The camp scrimmages have so far told us that coach Travis Green seems to be favouring something like this:

Quinn Hughes-Chris Tanev

Alex EdlerTyler Myers

Oscar FantenbergTroy Stecher

Jordie Benn/Guillaume Brisebois

Based on levels of NHL experience, which the Canucks have a propensity to favour, I see these as the most likely pairings that we’ll see in the postseason, barring any injuries. Given what the Canucks have on D, there is nothing here that I particularly object to. However, it would be interesting to see what Brogan Rafferty can do should a spot open up on the right side, and during the past couple scrimmages, Olli Juolevi has gotten an extra look in a bottom-pairing role, suggesting that he could not only move on to Phase 4, but play as well.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jacob Markstrom will be the go-to starter for the Canucks in these playoffs. As the most reliable option for Travis Green, he will start the overwhelming majority of games. The only way that this will change is if Markstrom fails to reach the same standard of play that he has set over the past two seasons, or, heaven forbid, he gets injured. In either of these situations, Thatcher Demko would step in as the starter.

That said, I do believe that there is potential for Demko to start one game against the Wild. Games three and four are scheduled to take place on back-to-back nights, and switching up the goalies in such cases will be common, especially with such a compressed playoff schedule. Green could opt to start Demko in the fourth game should such a decision benefit Markstrom.

I have to confess that I absolutely love Zack MacEwen. Much like Gaudette before the regular season, the Big Fella has demonstrated in training camp that he truly deserves to be a full-time NHLer and I think that he will be going forward. He is exactly the type of player that a team needs in the playoffs and the fact that MacEwen was on a 20+ goal pace over 82 games before the pause speaks volumes. I hope we see him in the playoffs and I daresay he deserves a spot over Jake Virtanen.

It would be a major statement though if MacEwen takes Virtanen’s spot on the third line. Jake has to things that the Big Fella lacks: several seasons of NHL experience and speed. Both will play in Virtanen’s favour, despite MacEwen’s improving defensive ability and strong mind for the game. I think experience will give Jake the edge, at least for Game 1. However, he will be on a short leash, and the Big Fella will be ready to step in at the first sign of trouble.

I must say that Tal here asks very difficult questions, but I think that Loui Eriksson may end up being a very impactful player for the Canucks this postseason. The Minnesota Wild were one of the poorest team in the league with an empty net, surrendering 12 goals against while allowing only one. If the Canucks are leading with minutes left, the Wild will be playing right into Loui’s wheelhouse, and he has clearly been working on his shot at training camp, preparing to launch 200-foot bombs into an empty cage with…

Okay, all kidding aside, I am not writing off Eriksson as a playoff performer just yet. At this point, it may be pointless to hope for more from Sweetness coming out of camp, but he has looked good so far, with multiple goals in scrimmages and a renewed sense of speed and effort that Canucks fans have yet to see. His shot does in fact look better than it did pre-quarantine. Green will rely on Eriksson’s penalty-killing abilities against Minnesota, and maybe playoff Loui is a different beast.

Of course, any playoff success does not mean that the Canucks should keep Eriksson, but how to get rid of his contract is a great mystery. Contrary to popular belief, Canucks fans should not hope for a mutual contract termination. It’s highly unlikely that Loui would walk away from five million dollars over the next two seasons, especially without another NHL job in the near future guaranteed. Eriksson has even said that he intends to play out his contract.

With the deal so bonus-laden that a buyout is virtually impossible, the only real option is to trade Eriksson to a team resting near the cap floor, such as the New Jersey Devils or Ottawa Senators. The only way to pull off such a trade would be to include picks or a valuable young player and receive next to nothing in return. Perhaps the Canucks will do that, using Virtanen or MacEwen as bait, but it would feel bittersweet. I think we might just be stuck with it for the next two seasons.

The answer to our final question really depends on whom you ask. Canucks management laid out clearly that their goal for 2019-20 was to make the playoffs for the first time in five years, and defeating the Wild in the play-in achieves this goal. Therefore, a quarterfinal appearance would be considered a success and anything further would just be icing on the cake.

The question becomes harder to answer if you ask Canucks fans. The consensus is a foreign concept in Canuck fandom, so any response will be different from the last, but many, myself included, would consider a first-round appearance to be a success. Many people will want them to go for the Stanley Cup, and anything short of that is a failure. A few fans would even consider a play-in loss and draft lottery win to be the ultimate success. There will never be an agreed-upon point of success, and this season will be debated for years to come.

Next: Canucks: Rivalry with Seattle Kraken starts now

That’s our mailbag for this week! Thank you to everyone that submitted a question, and we encourage you to keep them coming next week as the battle with the Wild begins. It’s been a pleasure and I’ll see you next week!

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